Chapter no 19 – The Edge of The World

Empire of Silence

THE FREE TRADER WAS not at all like I’d expected—but then, I hadn’t been sure what I expected. Demetri Arello was Jaddian and thin as a rapier with skin the color of oiled bronze. He smiled, flashing teeth so white I knew

they had to be ceramic implants. “Strange for a nobleman to be so desperate as to stoop to my level.” He chuckled self-deprecatingly and leaned back in his seat, ruffling his star-bright hair. It was brighter than his teeth: a luminous, vivid white.

“Your level?” I asked, pouring my own wine from the glass carafe.

Outside the arched doorway, the day was hot and steaming, and I could hear the heavy sounds of construction from the half-finished apartment building rising near the docks. “What do you mean?”

Arello smiled. “My ship is fast, but she is no luxury cruiser.” He took me in with an appraising eye, bit his lip intently. “You may not be so

comfortable.” The trader stroked his smooth chin with one ringed hand, his smile not faltering.

“I’m not looking for comfort,” I said. “Just passage to Teukros.” He interrupted me, eyes taking in Kyra where she sat between us.

“Clearly comfort is not your goal, else you would be bringing this one

along with you, eh?” He smiled again. He was always smiling. Kyra offered no response. I could sense the urgency coming off her in waves. She wanted this done with, and quickly.

“If I were looking for comfort, messer, I’d be staying at home.”

“Quite. Though as I understand it, you are not having a home to stay in, yes?” He tipped back his tumbler of wine and grimaced. “How do you Imperials drink this horse piss? I ask you . . .” He shook his head. “In my homeland we’d stone the man who dared sell this.”

Apparently past her limit, Kyra said, “Your ship’s fast?”

“Fast enough for the lady who chartered me.” Despite his protestations, the man seized the carafe and refilled his tumbler with the thick, red-black liquid. He took another more speculative sip. “It’s strong, at least.” He set the glass down and leaned back and sideways, stretching the loose folds of the green-and-orange robe he wore over his otherwise bare and hairless

chest. “Listen, if you want to get to Teukros, then the Eurynasir will get you to Teukros. We go by Obatala and Siena. A thirteen-year journey.”

“By Obatala . . .” I trailed off, my frown deepening. “It’s not a direct journey?” I looked at Kyra, who was here only to see that I arrived on the trader’s ship. She’d changed out of her pilot’s uniform and into simple

street clothes, tight leggings and a loose-fitting tunic printed with the

Albans salamander and the name of some Colosso gladiator. It suited her.

Arello’s snowy brows contracted. “Direct? To Teukros? That’s a fucking long journey, my friend. I’m not looking to put myself out on a long trip up-spiral the one courier job. I’ve got crew to feed and pay, and if we’re going so far, you bet your pasty palatine ass we’re stopping for trade. War’s driven up all sorts of demands—a man could make himself a king.”

Kyra leaned toward me and whispered, “I really don’t like to be wasting time like this, my lord. I’ll be missed soon.” Against my objections, she had insisted on accompanying me into the wine-sink to meet with the Jaddian

captain despite the five-hour flight back to Haspida. The morning was well on now, and by the clock on one wall there was only about an hour before my scheduled departure from the summer palace for the Farworker and

Vesperad. I had abandoned my terminal in the summer palace, not wanting to be tracked by its signal.

“They’ve probably already missed you,” I said soberly, still unwilling to look her in the eyes. Junior or no, she was a pilot officer and would have been expected to show up for systems checks. I only hoped that Mother

would have the wits to play for time. Perhaps she’d say I had stunned Kyra too in my escape, that I’d left her in some out-of-the-way place where she’d not be found. She’d come up with something.

“Is this a private conversation?” Demetri asked, his lilting accent almost feline in its lazy drawl. “Or can anybody step in, hmm? I dislike this idleness as much as any of you, but I need to know we have an understanding.” Here he placed a hand against his heart like a vassal

swearing an oath to his liege.

Very serious, I narrowed my eyes. “What sort of understanding? You’ve been paid, am I right?”

“Yes, yes.” Demetri Arello nodded vigorously. “Five thousand hurasams in advance with the promise of nine thousand marks from your bank on

Teukros when you arrive.” He waved a hand as if to dismiss these thoughts like so many bloat-flies. “This is all well and good, but how am I saying this? You are a nobile. Nobiles are uh . . . how you say?” He looked pointedly from my face to Kyra’s. “Complicated?” I stared back, each of us waiting for the other man to blink. Silence, I’ve often found, is the most

effective tool in any conversation. So I waited the merchant out. The clamor of morning construction subsided a moment, and I heard a man calling out in some street argot. “You are not some sort of criminal, are you?”

Taken aback, I raised my eyebrows at the man. “What? No.” What had Mother told him?

“It is only that I do not wish my people endangered,” Demetri explained, keeping his eyes locked on me as he refilled his glass, unable to mask the disappointed sneer at the sound of the liquid spilling into his cup. “We have sufficient troubles of our own without dabbling in Delian politics.”

I glanced sideways at a faded opera poster featuring a naked, black-

skinned woman holding a highmatter sword, one bare foot planted on the face of an Imperial legionnaire. Tiada, it read, The Princess of Thrax.

“You’re taking me away from Delian politics.” When Demetri looked to be on the verge of arguing, I switched to Jaddian and said, “Listen, you’re from the Principalities, yes?”

The foreigner blinked, surprise coloring his sharp face. “Yes, yes. Si.” He watched me with hooded eyes.

“How do you feel about the Terran Chantry?” Demetri’s jovial

expression faltered, and he made a face like he’d had more of the dive’s

sour wine. Satisfied, I said, still in Jaddian, “That’s what I thought. Well, as it happens, I feel the same way, mi sadji. I was being sent to seminary.

You’re helping me escape.” I smiled again, the grin unintentionally

crooked, as all my family’s grins were. I was conscious then of my accent, the polish of the old Imperial elite, scion of the elder houses of the inner worlds. It was a voice associated with villains in the sort of operas

portrayed on the rather tasteless posters that plastered the wine-sink’s walls.

Demetri set his pointed jaw. He leaned in over his wine and hissed, this time in Imperial Galstani, “Sticking it to the Chantry, is it?” He glanced

over my shoulder, across the common room to the pair of jubala addicts at their hookah. The smokers were the only other people in the dismal bar,

either the first customers of the day or the last of the night. He kept his eyes on them. “I have heard this already from our friends in the Consortium. I only want to make sure it is not more than this thing. Nothing . . . messy.”

Crispin’s unconscious form lying on the floor blossomed flower-like in my mind. From the look on Kyra’s narrow features, I saw she was thinking the same. “No, no. Nothing like that.”

If Demetri could tell I was lying, he didn’t seem to care. He slammed back his wine in one gulp, gasping at its foulness. Then his eyes narrowed, and in a lower voice he asked, “Who are you?”

“I told you,” I said. “My name’s Hadrian.”

He wagged a long finger at me, and I noted a faintly reflective tattoo glittering on the back of his hand. “No no no no no. I may not be from your Empire, but I am no mongrel to be kicked and lied to. You are Hadrian

someone.” He turned the finger on Kyra. “This little female of yours is no friend. She’s a servant, no? A bodyguard, maybe?” When I hesitated, his huckster’s grin widened, and he sat back, laughing softly to himself as he fingered the triangular gold medallion about his neck. “Which house? Feng wouldn’t say.” Not seeing the point in denying it, I tugged the ring off my thumb and showed it to him. Foreign as he was, he frowned. “I should have turned the bitch down.”

“If you go quickly, there won’t be a problem,” Kyra snapped, jaw tight. I think the word bitch in reference to my mother—her secret master—lit

something in her.

“Marlowe . . .” Arello was ignoring her, turning his wineglass on the tabletop so that it rattled. “Marlowe . . . Weren’t you attacked? Some time ago now? Mugged coming out of a brothel, was it?”

With Kyra there, this rankled especially. I slapped the table with one hand, the rage I’d felt the night before flaring up. “It wasn’t a brothel!”

Demetri laughed again, a polished-wood sound that drew the eyes of the two jubala smokers by the arch that led to the outer balcony. “So it was you, then!”

I scowled. Oldest trick in the book, that. “It was the Colosso.”

“Whatever.” Demetri waved a hand, refilled my glass for me. “Your lovely bodyguard is right, domi. We should be going. And now.” He raised

his empty glass in imitation of a toast. “But my grandmother said never to waste wine, even goat’s piss like this. Your health, mi sadji. Buon atanta.”

“I tuo,” I replied and stomached the swill.



Karch lay at the edge of the globe, as far from civilization as was possible on a planet like Delos. If our cartographers had shared the romance of the ancients, they might have drawn dragons and sea serpents in the waters

encircling her. Where Meidua was tall, her proud towers stretching like

supplicating fingers toward the gray heavens, Karch was squat, a rambling tangle of two- and three-story buildings along the stony rise above the bay. On those blue-gray waters, floating like so much garbage, lay a tangle of pontoon bridges and floats anchored to concrete piers like bones in a fish. A great many ships gathered there: sail and steam and star.

And the people. Earth and Emperor, the people. The terrible crush of them, the weight and stink and sound of them. For once I was a tall man,

standing nearly head and shoulders above the tallest plebeian in the throng. So I took to slouching, my satchel slung over one shoulder, my shirt unbuttoned to the sternum in the uncommon heat. Mother’s two legionnaires, dressed in simple clothes but with pistols hanging from their shield-belts, carried my trunk between them, following at a respectful distance. Kyra hurried along ahead of me, moving with a deliberation that parted the crowd all on its own. The pontoons rocked beneath our feet, bobbing on the gentle swells.

Demetri had gone ahead of us, and so when we approached the low, dark lozenge of his ship where she squatted on the waves, he stumped out to greet us. He’d undone his orange-and-green robe, and the silk billowed

about him. He raised a hand, waved. I acknowledged the gesture and hurried forward, ducking around two broad-chested sailors unloading their small freighter. I barely saw them, my attention entirely given over to the matte-black hull of the ship pressed against the surface of the bay.

The Jaddian ship reminded me of a catamaran, with two swollen runners making up each of her flanks, running a little to the fore and aft of her nearly forty-meter length. Between them, the body of the craft arched out of the water. An alumglass dome—like a hooded eye—peered from between those runners, and at her rear a slim conning spire rose between heavy air

fins that doubled for rudders when the ship was down in water, as then. Every inch of her was dark as space, the hull a composite of adamant and high-impact ceramics with pieces of alumglass and exposed titanium here and there. Saying all this, perhaps it sounds glamorous, and if I were some backwater farm technician with barely two hurasams to rub together, perhaps it would’ve been. But to me—to the son of a landed archon—it

was . . . worrying.

Hairline fractures veined the ceramic in places and were in places

caulked or welded. A mural of two cupped hands peeled near the front of the craft, the fingers cupping the flowing Jaddian letters of a single word: Eurynasir.

Salt from Delos’s ocean caked the lower regions of the hull, and the

smoke trailing from the warming fusion lifters in the back made me think of some ancient wood-burning locomotive. If she had suppression field generators, I could not see them.

“Fine ship, Captain!” I called, lowering my hand. “I hope I’ve not kept you waiting.” It had been perhaps half an hour since we’d parted in the dingy wine-sink with its jubala-scented air. The air on the pontoon pier

stank of ozone from the fusion drives and diesel fuel from outboard motors.

Demetri Arello smiled, white teeth flashing in the light as he tied a green sash about his slim waist. “You are just in time. Hurry.” He caught sight of the two plainclothes soldiers carrying my trunk, and his smile faltered as he said, “If ever I had doubts about what you were, this would end them.” He watched the two soldiers put the case down. “We can carry it inside.” He bit his lip again, looking me over as if I were a specimen under glass. His fingers drummed against his legs.

“One moment.” I turned to Kyra. “You’ve done all you can, Lieutenant.

Take the others and go. With luck, you’ve not been missed.”

She shook her head, hooked a thumb through the belt of her tunic. “It’s too late for that.”

At once the toe of my boot absorbed all of my attentions, and I spoke to it instead of the woman before me. “I’m sorry.” I wanted her to say

something. Anything. To tell me it was all right. I thought of Crispin’s threat against her and said, “Mother will protect you. I swear it. Ask her for a posting with my grandmother. Anywhere away from the castle.” From my brother.

“I’ll be fine,” she said defensively, and she turned to go. I could not blame her for hurrying.

But I caught her wrist. “Kyra, wait.” She looked back, still half turned away, her hard eyes glaring at the spot where my hand held her. I wonder

now if she thought I was going to kiss her again. I did no such thing. I knew this moment was important, that hers was the last familiar face I would ever see, the last human piece of my life before childhood’s end. I wanted to say something she would remember. But I let her go, pressed my fist to my

chest in salute, and could only repeat what I had already said: “I’m sorry.” I wished she would speak. But she didn’t. Instead she nodded, turned,

and was gone, passing between the two legionnaires, who mirrored my

salute and melted into the crowd. In memory, I stand watching as the three soldiers dressed as common men faded into the throng on that bobbing pier.

But that is a dream. Not a second passed before Demetri grabbed my shoulder, fingers insistent. “Hurry, boy. We waste time.”

“Yes,” I said faintly, craning my neck, patting myself down to check the contents of my pockets: my knife, my static identification, a few hurasams, the letter Gibson had written for me, and the universal card I had won from Lena Balem and the Mining Guild. Twenty thousand marks was a precious thing. Once I was offworld, away from my father in his prying eyes, it was enough to start almost any kind of life. Despite Gibson’s letter, I could go anywhere. Twenty thousand was enough to buy passage on a ship. On

several ships. Between that and my blood, I could buy a ship on credit, turn merchanter or mercenary. I imagined sailing to Judecca like Simeon the

Red, breaking bread with the avian Irchtani, seeing the universe. I could not help smiling.

Teukros first.

Stooping, I helped Demetri with my trunk, walking down the boarding ramp and into the cool, sterile dimness of the airlock and out—for the last time—from under the silver sun and sky of my home.

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