LILIANA KEPHALOS-MARLOWE STOOD AT her holography booth, her back to me, moving through the ghostly image of a fencing duel, a light-pen in her hand, an entoptics monocle screwed over her left eye. The booth was a disc about twenty feet in diameter, mirrored by another on the ceiling that
sketched a three-dimensional world within its boundaries. Mother’s
workspace—glass-walled on the far end and with a commanding view of the domes and slim towers of the summer palace—appeared to contain a portion of grassy sward with a crowd of onlookers in period dress
witnessing the doom of an antique musketeer. She couldn’t have been back long, and she was already back at her work. I didn’t know whether to
admire her dedication or to hate her for it. Like Father, she had so little time for her children.
The servant bowed, tapping his feet together. “Hadrian Marlowe, ladyship.”
My mother turned, arching one bronze eyebrow until the monocle popped out of her eye. “There you are!” She stopped the monocle swaying, pressed it into a small pocket on her azure blouse. She waved the light-pen, banishing the hazy cloud of holographs with a quiet click. The sward and musketeers vanished, leaving us standing in gray emptiness.
I stood straight, tugging my running shirt down to smooth it. “Here I am? Mother, I’ve been here for days. You know I’m leaving at the end of the week?”
A faint smile flickered over Mother’s porcelain face. “Yes, yes I know.” She turned to the servant. “Mikal, you may leave us.” The man bowed and departed, sealing the front doors behind him with a bang. She smiled then and, unknowingly evoking Hamlet, said, “Now we’re alone.” She crossed
her arms, surveying me with an expression I could not quite place: lips pursed, brows contracted, amber eyes narrowed. Were it not for that slight motion, I might have thought her another frozen holograph, an image cast in light as a statue is from bronze. “Would you care to tell me what in Earth’s name you think you’re doing?”
I blinked, genuinely surprised and not expecting this tack. I looked around. “What are you—”
“Don’t play the fool with me, Hadrian.” She whirled, green-and-bronze skirts fanning as she did, and crossed the holography platform to a
sideboard littered with the instruments of her trade. I spied a pair of heavy entoptic goggles as well as an old-style computer console and a pair of
crystal hand tablets nested in a charging station beside the controls for the lights and the polarizing controls for the bank of windows. Liliana
Kephalos-Marlowe seized a nylon strap and hauled up a small attaché case such as high-security couriers of the Imperium used. Without ceremony, her jaw clenched, she threw it at me. I caught it on reflex. “Open it.”
I did and nearly dropped the pack. Just barely catching it, I looked up at the woman who had given me her genes and said, “It was you? How?”
“I keep eyes on you,” she said coolly, thumbing the wall console that turned the bank of windows from transparent to an opaque, metallic gray, shutting out the world. “Especially after the incident at the Colosso.”
Gingerly I removed the item at the bottom of the attaché case, drawing it out as if it were a viper or a severed hand. “How did you get this, Mother?” It was the book, of course—the little brown leather volume Gibson had given me that day upon the seawall. The King with Ten Thousand Eyes, purporting to be the autobiography of the ancient pirate Kharn Sagara, King of Vorgossos. I opened it, withdrew the yellow envelope Gibson had placed beneath the front cover. My name was written on the packet in Gibson’s
spidery hand. Someone had opened it, and I peered within, tucking the book under my arm.
“He’d made plans with one of Lord Albans’s scholiasts,” Mother said, moving a little closer to me. “Apparently the woman knew a merchanter vessel that’d take you to Nov Senber on Teukros.” She scowled. “Not the best plan in the world. You can read about it in there.”
A hundred little questions formed and burst, foaming within me. The most important rose to the top. “How did Father find out?”
“About the letter?” She smiled. “Oh, Al has no idea. Lord Albans’s people alerted his office when the man’s scholiast flagged unauthorized transmissions with the merchanter in high orbit. The plan unraveled on the other end.” I placed the letter back inside the novel while she spoke, intestines turning Gordian within me. “Your father knows you had a hand in it, but he figures he’s won after . . .” She trailed off, a strange expression
clouding the aristocratic severity of her face. “I’m sorry about Gibson, by the way. I know the two of you were close.”
“Do you know what happened to him?”
She shook her head. “Packed aboard some cargo freighter headed Emperor-knows-where. Your father had him listed on nine ships’ manifests, four of which are heading out-system. I can’t wave them until they come out of warp, and even then I’d have to clear a telegraph wave with either my mother or your father.” I grimaced. Telegraph waves were expensive
and carefully monitored by the Earth’s Chantry, being dangerous technological artifacts.
“He’s gone, then.”
“Alive,” Mother replied, “if that helps.” It didn’t. I looked down at my feet, at the self-lacing gray running shoes. My words fled me, retreating through the opaqued windows and over the towers and glass domes of the palace to vanish in the next valley’s glades. Then something happened that I have never forgotten, something that changed my world as surely as if a passing comet had altered my orbit. My mother wrapped her perfumed arms around me, not speaking. I stood there paralyzed. Not once in nearly twenty standard years—not once—had either of my parents shown me an ounce, an instant of physical affection. That one embrace made up for nearly all of that. I didn’t move for the longest time, and it was only with a sort of
shellshocked slowness that I moved to embrace her in return. But I did not cry; I did not make a sound.
Mother said, “I want to help you.”
I pushed away, looking up at her from closer than I think I had ever looked at her before. “What do you mean?” Nervous, I looked around the room, sighting the cameras high in the smooth metallic walls.
Seeing this, Mother smiled, smoothing her cerulean blouse. “Cameras are all off in here.” Her smile widened. “Privilege of running the household.” Nearly two decades of experience cast doubt thick and heavy over me, but she smiled and repeated, “The cameras are off.” Still numb, I
nodded and swallowed, but before I could speak, Lady Liliana said, “You still haven’t answered my question.”
“Which one?” My knees felt weak, and I crossed to sag onto the divan beside the attaché case that had held The King with Ten Thousand Eyes.
“The one where you explain what on Earth you think you’re doing.”
Reassured by her promise about the cameras, I told her everything. My fear of the Chantry, my hatred of them, my desire to be a scholiast and join the Expeditionary Corps. She winced when I told her Father had struck me, and her eyes glazed over when I recounted Gibson’s treatment in Julian’s plaza, but she listened attentively and never once interrupted or raised objections. As I spoke she found a low stool in a distant corner and wheeled it just across from the divan where I sat. When I was done she pressed her lips together, reached out, and took my hand, repeating the words that had barely registered the first time I’d heard her say them. “I want to help you.”
Youthful petulance cracked its whip within me, and I snapped, “How, Mother? How? It’s over. Father’s gotten his wish. In four days I’ll be on a ship for Vesperad.” Crispin’s little laugh came back to me then, rattled me. Anagnost. Odd word. I wondered where Crispin was in that moment. I hoped he was far away in the arms of his blue-skinned girl and not
wondering why I wasn’t in the main palace. “He’s won. It’d take days to come up with some kind of plan . . .”
She squeezed my hand. “Where do you think I’ve been, hmm?”
I straightened as if Mother had shocked me, felt my eyes go wide. “You’re serious.”
Lady Liliana only looked at me. “I was in Euclid tracking down a Free Trader, someone to take you offworld.”
“A Free Trader? That’s no better than a pirate. You can’t trust people like that.”
She raised a placating hand, letting mine go. “Director Feng vouched for him herself.”
That caught me off guard. “The director is still on Delos?”
Mother smiled, rubbing her thumb along her lower lip. “Why do you think I was in Euclid, of all the godforsaken places in Mother’s domain?” I wondered at that and at the distant look in Mother’s eyes. “No, this fellow’s good. A Jaddian. Ada says he used to run Lothrian orbital checks for some of their . . . more sensitive cargo.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Ada?”
“Director Feng,” Mother amended, looking away. She stood smoothly, pacing toward the foggy windows.
“I got that,” I said. “But ‘Ada?’”
Lady Liliana smiled a private smile—an expression I understood all too well. “You want to do this or not?”
Seven words. A single question. I was as a man balancing on a wire, ready to fall either left or right. Never to climb back up. “What about you?” I asked, looking up at my mother from my place on the divan. “Aren’t you worried about what Father will do once he learns that you helped me to
escape the Chantry?”
She turned back from where she stood by the opaqued windows. It suddenly struck me how much taller than me she was. It was from her bloodline that Crispin got his monstrous size. She towered like some
alabaster Venus, or like an icon of Justice blown from white glass upon a Chantry altar. “My mother”—she tipped her head back, summoning all the aristocratic hauteur she could muster—“is the duchess of all Delos and one of His Radiance’s own vicereines. She has your father’s balls in her hand.”
“Why are you doing this?”
She thrust out her chin. “Al never once asked me about this Vesperad business. So damn him to the Outer Dark. You’re my son, Hadrian.” She ran her tongue over her teeth like a bored lioness, her attentions captured by something only she could see. “Is this what you want? Life as a scholiast?
With the Corps?”
I cleared my throat, desperate to stifle the swelling of emotion the words
You are my son had placed in me. “Yes.”