Chapter no 67 – Lost Time

Empire of Silence

OUR EXPOSURE TO THE oceans of space has made of our vast worlds small islands. Our genetic enhancements have strained our appreciation of time.

As you have read, once I dallied in the streets and canals of Borosevo

without regard for the cost in years. Crowded by all that noise, that color, the verve and bustle of the city and its dying people, I thought my lost time worth nothing given the centuries my blood assured. How easy it was to believe that I could stay there, stay with Cat in our crumbling tenement until time itself pulled me down like the buildings.

The man who hopes for the future delays its arrival, and the man who dreads it summons it to his door.

Augustine once said that if there are such things as the past and the future, they do not exist as such but are only the present in their own times. The past, he says, exists only in memory and the future only in expectation. Neither is real. The past and the future—our lives and dreams—are stories. We are all stories in the end. Only stories. And it is in the nature of stories that times present and past are present in time future, and the future present in the past. Thus all time is always present in the mind, and in the story of the mind, and perhaps in those forces that shaped the mind. The poet wrote that all time is unredeemable. That what might have been is only an

abstraction: worlds in quantum space, unrealized, which in turn define events by their exclusion from events.

What if? What might have been?

I saw myself in the dusty halls of that athenaeum on Teukros and in the vaulted chambers of the seminary on Vesperad. Other Hadrians tramped the dust of other worlds, unmade, unreal. Footfalls echoed in memory down passages I did not take, toward doors I did not open.

They were nothing next to the thoughts of where I might be going.

The future might come only in its own time, but the scholiasts teach that there are many futures, and it is only the crashing of the waves of time and possibility against the interminable now that makes the world. It is not the future that is present in Ever-Fleeting Time but the futures. Freedom— freedom of thought and action—matter and are guaranteed because the future is not. There are no prophecies, only probabilities. No Fate, only

chance. The present time is not when we are, but what we do.



Upon these and more material facts I meditated, sitting half-drunkenly upon the strand overlooking a pale turquoise sea. Night on Emesh was never truly dark, for at any given time either Binah or Armand would be visible in the

sky, shining green or pink in the dimness. That night both were present: the massive, forested Binah low on the horizon and small, jewel-bright Armand set high in the firmament to outdo the very stars. Wind whistled down the

cleft behind me, moaning through Calagah’s fluted pillars and out into the world.

The Empire. The Chantry. Anaïs. Gilliam. Ligeia Vas . . . I fidgeted with little chips of stone, gray against black volcanic sand, making lines of them. The Jaddians. Sir Olorin. Sir Elomas. Lords Balian and Luthor. They were all pieces on a board. I destroyed the line of stones. The Cielcin. The war.

Must everything you say sound like it’s straight out of a Eudoran

melodrama? Gibson’s words rattled out of ancient history, referred from a simpler time. I stifled a laugh, tipped the wine bottle back before screwing it into the sand. I’d walked into a melodrama, hadn’t I? Or rather, I had

expected one, created one for myself. I shook the memories away and tried to finish my drawing of Lady Kalima, but I despaired of ever properly

capturing the disdain in her eali eyes. The charcoal snapped, and I swore, dropped the journal on the beach beside me, and leaned back against the rocks.

“You all right?”

I started and cried out, nearly knocking over my wine. “You need to stop sneaking up on people!” More softly, I swore to myself and closed the journal, took up the broken pencil.

Valka stood on the rise above me, balanced with each foot on a separate spar of basalt, perched like a Mandari assassin ready for the kill. Many times we’d talked like this before the incident in the tunnels, and many nights since I’d sat alone. “You make it sound like I’ve made a hobby of

such things.” She had her hands shoved deep into the pockets of the red leather jacket she’d favored since coming south, its tails flapping about her knees in the night wind.

A sickly grimace pulled at my face as I recalled her little spate of poor timing in the tunnels a week earlier. We’d not spoken much since then; the truth was that I’d been avoiding her. “Well, don’t . . . start.” My grimace intensified. Great job, Marlowe. Real coherent. I tried to salvage my dignity. “How did you know I was here? And how long have you been

standing there?”

“Not long. And you’re out here about every other night.” She leaped down from the escarpment, kicking up little puffs of sand as she landed. She peered down at me past a fringe of dark hair. In the moons’ light, the subtle red there gleamed like burnished copper, glowing like the burning

edges of a sheet of parchment. I think she worried for me, seeing the bottle half-emptied as it was. For when she next spoke, it was in the tone someone might employ when speaking with a plague-stricken family member.

“We’ve . . . spoken out here before. Several times.” That was true. Many times since I’d come to Calagah, Valka and I—often with Elomas or Ada or the squire, Karthik, in tow—had wandered the shoreline within a mile or so of the cleft.

“I know that.” I made a face and looked down at my journal, hauling the sandy tome up into my lap. “I just . . . I was just trying to be alone is all.” I tried to scuff the thing clean with a loose cuff. When she neither moved nor said anything, just kept looming at the edge of my vision, I let the journal drop into my lap and burst out, exasperated, “It’s only that I—I’ve had a lot to think about. Would you mind?” The sea by night was the wine-dark described by old, blind Homer, highlighted a snowy white as Valka’s hair

was flame’s honest crimson. She did not move or stir. She didn’t leave. She might have been a stone, one of the basalt spires, but for the pressure of those golden eyes on me. Patience is a great teacher and silence a better one

—they prize things from men’s souls without the need for knives. When the lapping of somber waves had been the only sound for too long, I blurted,

“About what I saw. In the cave . . . I . . .”

“We don’t have to talk about it,” she said. “We both said awful things.” “We both . . .” I clenched my teeth. That was a lie. This time, at least, I

was innocent. But Gilliam’s vulture-blue eye peered at me over her

shoulder, and I stopped myself. “As you wish.” Looking for a way out, I said, “And about Anaïs, I—”

“Hadrian, I don’t care.” She seated herself beside me, and somehow that simple gesture softened the gut-wrenching edge in her words. “I don’t know what you’re so ashamed of. You’re supposed to marry the girl. ’Tis good that you kissed her, better than most of you palatine inmane can hope for.

I stiffened at the insult. Inhuman. It stunned me, made me feel rather how I expect a grandfather might if called an ignorant child. “Better

than . . . ?” I don’t know what you’re so ashamed of. How could I explain that? I turned my face away, pawed for the bottle beside me, wishing I

could vanish up inside it like some djinni and forget the entire world.

“Well, like your parents.” I’d forgotten I had told her about them. She drew her knees up to her chin, heels digging furrows in the flinty sand.

“Cold. You know what I mean. This is good. Better. She’s a good kid.” To hear a count’s daughter referred to thusly was a novelty, and I smiled. “You could do a lot worse, you know? She likes you.” She punched my arm,

strangely playful. “She’s gorgeous, too.”

An incoherent noise escaped me, and I said, “I don’t want to marry her.” I seized a fistful of the little stones I’d been toying with and hurled them at the sea. They thudded into the muck near the water. It felt good to say

aloud. “I don’t want to be stuck on this planet. I killed a man, Valkaand they will try to kill me before long. The Chantry, I mean—the grand prior. This place . . . You’re the only reason I . . .” I broke off, embarrassed.

No words. I stopped and just looked at the sea, at the play of rosy moonlight on the black waters, the stars winking in the heavens, waves pushed by wind and pulled by Binah and Armand. The beauty of it kindled at the base of me, enough to momentarily crowd out the screaming chaos. How fragile it was, that quiet. The lapping waves, the distant scree of some night bird. Away and beyond but near at hand, the lights of orbital ships and satellites scratched a silent procession against the unfixed stars. “I wasn’t

supposed to be here, Valka. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” I tugged the planted wine bottle free, uncorked it.

Valka snatched it from me before I could drink and took a long pull herself. “I wanted to be a pilot, you know.”

“What?” I grabbed the bottle back. “You’re serious?”

“Completely. I wanted to buy a ship, trade up and down the Wisp.

Maybe carry passengers.” “What happened?”

“My father died,” she said, her gaze fixed on some point in the sea or sky that I could not name. I bent my head, murmured an apology. “’Tis all right. You did not know.” She did not sound at all rattled, though she hugged her knees more tightly to her.

“How did he die?”

Valka turned to look at me. “He was killed. Doing this.” She took

another swallow, then glared at the bottle with hooded eyes. “This is not so good a bottle as the last.”

“Elomas hoards the good stuff for himself.” As I spoke I began

sharpening my broken pencil on the scalpel I carried in my leather drawing kit. Valka looked briefly alarmed, as if fearing I might cut myself, but my hands were steady. “Sorry. I wasn’t expecting company.” My hands stilled in my lap, still clutching their tools. “Your father was a xenologist too?”

“Why do you sharpen your pencils with a knife?”

“I’m sorry?” I looked round at her, confused. She repeated her question, waved a hand at the utensils in mine. “Oh.” I held the pencil up for inspection, admiring the black point, so sharp. “It puts a better point on.”

Crispin had asked me the same question once.

I could feel her staring at me, not amused. “That’s absurd. They make pencil sharpeners, you know.” Hadn’t Crispin said the same thing?

All I could do was shrug, gesturing with the scalpel. “It’s not really about that. It’s . . . The tools we use help adjust our thinking.”

“How do you mean?”

“When I don’t feel well, I draw.” I opened the book, flipping through a couple of the earlier pages—pages far from the drawings I had made of Valka herself, each dark and minutely detailed, heavily shadowed.

“Sometimes I’ll sit and stare at a page forever, but I don’t see anything. When that happens, I try to figure out what’s gone wrong. Why I can’t do it.” I put the scalpel down on the drawing kit beside me. “I take time to

sharpen the pencil again, even if it doesn’t need it. It’s good to practice the motions. It focuses my mind, helps it—me—work better.” In all this rambling, she had not once made a sound or interrupted to mock me, so I

added, “Of course, there are some times when the art comes effortlessly.” I

smiled up at her, keeping a hand flat on the journal for fear it would spill open, as in some torpid comedy, to reveal Valka’s portrait.

She tapped her front teeth against the rim of the bottle, as she nodded. Suddenly conscious of the silliness of the gesture, she put the bottle down in the sand between us. Valka’s eyes did not break contact with the wine-dark sea. “He was. A xenologist. My father, I mean. He ran afoul of your Inquisition while on a dig at Ozymandias.”

“They’re not my Inquisition.”

We were both quiet then for a long time, the sea and the faint calling of birds again the only sounds. The wind moaned from the cleft behind us, ragged and lonely and alone. At last I asked, “Do you hate me, Valka?”

“You do enough of that yourself.” And she favored me with a small

smile that bled through the pall that lay on me like ink through cloth. “You don’t need my help.”

A sort of madness seized me, bubbling up from somewhere lower than my throat, and I started laughing, low and quietly. A hiccup cut it off, and I had to clamp my jaws shut and hold my breath to keep the condition from worsening. “You have me there.”

“You’re not who I thought you were,” the woman said, words bright-edged as her hair in the moons’ light. I looked at her, she at me. Her smile widened.

I felt my own smile grow to match, felt the quiet laughter of a moment

ago threaten to return. “Who did you think I was?” She didn’t have to say it. I knew.

Valka looked at me a long time, those golden eyes bright in the gloom with a light all their own. “You can guess, I’m sure.”

I could. She thought I was Crispin. Thought I was a butcher, a thug. She thought I enjoyed the violence of our world, a wolf among wolves, and though the Empire was a wilderness of wolves, I did not think that I was one of them. There must have been something of that thought on my face, for she said, “You’re not, though. You wear your Imperial mantle like it

chafes you.” “It does.”

“Why?” she asked. “Why are you unhappy? This place . . . They want to give you everything. You have everything. You’re a palatine, and they want to make you consort to a girl who rules a planet. Do you know how insane that is? Anaïs Mataro ruling a planet? Or anyone, for that matter.”

We both laughed a little, her at the Imperium, me at Anaïs. When that was done I looked away, fiddling again with the chips of stone in the sand

beside me. “What makes you think that what I have here is so worthwhile?” “Your privilege, you mean? Would you rather you were one of your


“I was a peasant for years,” I said harshly, glaring at her. “I lived in storm drains, Valka. I lost my . . . my friend to the bloody Gray Rot. I almost died in Colosso more times than I can count. I’ve been through

things you can’t imagine. Don’t preach to me about privilege. I know what I am. I didn’t choose it, but don’t think I haven’t suffered for it. And staying here would be no privilege.” I couldn’t keep looking at her, not just then.

Not with what I was about to say. “But Gilliam . . . Gilliam was my fault. I will atone for that and beg your forgiveness. I acted wrongly. But if you think that a forced marriage to Anaïs Mataro isn’t a prison for me just because she is gorgeous—your word, not mine—then you don’t know what a prison is.”

To my everlasting surprise, she said nothing, covered her silence with a drink of wine.

An expression so very like pain pulled on the muscles beneath her pale

skin. After a moment I said lamely, “I wanted to be a pilot too. Switch and I and some of the others—the myrmidons, I mean—we were going to buy a

ship, maybe start merchanting. Maybe mercenary work, traveling from

Colosso to Colosso.” I picked up one of the stone chips and hurled it at the sea. It didn’t quite make it there. “I was going to be like Simeon the Red.

Travel the stars, meet xenobites . . . rescue princesses, I don’t know.”

“You have a very romantic view of the universe,” she said. She meant it as an insult, but I refused to take it as such.

“I would like to,” I said. “I’m just sorry the universe doesn’t share that aspiration.”

I could feel those unnatural eyes on the side of my skull, but I didn’t look her way. “Are you always this dramatic?”

“Ask anyone who knows me.”

Valka snorted and passed the nearly empty wine bottle back to me. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry too.”



Another problem with Augustine’s common-sense vision of time: it

assumes a sort of causal relationship between past and present, between present and future. True, perhaps, in the physical sense, but in the narrative? No. Stories are not subject to Time, Ever-Fleeting. They transcend time.

They are eternal. In Classical English, the word “present” means both

“now” and “gift.” How the ancients survived such confusion I will never know, but there is beauty in such vagaries. Each moment, as it passes, is precious and so is separate from the moments that follow or precede it.

The truth? The truth is that I cannot remember if we shared that bottle on the last night at Calagah or if there was some other conversation our final night that I can no longer remember. It does not matter. In memory we rose from the shore and made the walk back to the cleft just as the sky turned to flame and thunder.

A great flash filled the heavens, red and white, channeling deep shadows across the craggy landscape. Smaller flashes followed, blue as daylight. I

stood transfixed, staring up at the fading light as fire streaked the heavens. Something cast its flame against the clouds, turning the night to a mummer’s parody of sunset, the colors all wrong even for Emesh’s bloody giant sun. There was pink in that light, and blue—the colors of plasma— falling like lightning across the sky.

I had no time to remember elementary physics. Indeed I had forgotten sense in my shock and awe.

Sound followed shortly after the light, and the shock of it knocked me from my feet. It was like being one of those prophets from antique mythology, brought to my knees—to my face—by the bellowing voice of God. Like thunder, but more than thunder. Like someone had broken the

sky. I clapped my hands over my ears, felt myself groan, but I did not hear it, for nothing could be heard beneath the awful crashing. The light was fading, and the sound with it, leaving a tinnitic ringing in my ears undercut by a dull, chthonic rumble, as if another planet were grating itself against the skin of the world.

“Get up!” someone shouted. Something tugged at my arm and shoulders, helped me rise. Valka. It was Valka. Technicians came pelting from their plastic homes, some panicking, others milling, staring uncomprehending at the sky.

Near at hand, someone shouted, “A meteor?” “Impossible!” another voice declared.

“A ship!” screamed a third. “One of ours?”

“Cielcin!” I lost track of the speakers, of the faceless members of this

Attic chorus crying that the army was at the gates. “It’s the Cielcin!” Fear is a strange thing, irrational, but incredible in the way it achieves truth faster than reason.

My ears still rang, and my eyes ached from the fireball. The sky above was scored with streaks of light, the stars lost in the confusion, finer points shimmering in the vaulted airs of heaven, white against the Dark. From the ground it was beautiful, well and truly beautiful, an angry red tower of flame and smoke falling as a sword upon the world. Without needing to be

told, I knew our chorus was correct, knew that a ship was falling, smitten by ships more distant still. I knew those fine points of light in heaven were the drive-glows of lighter wings, tiny ships holding no more than two men each deployed to cover and blockade Emeshi airspace.

And I knew. Knew with the bitter certainty of fear. The Cielcin had come.

The words came easily to me then. “Bel!” I shouted at the nearest technician. “Run to Elomas and tell him to wave Springdeep—we’re going to need fliers. Soldiers.” So small a thing, and yet when I recall that day I remember that as a proud and vital moment, the moment when I could have caved and fallen to the ground but stood fast and straight and acted.

The technician, a feminine man with high cheekbones and a pale offworld complexion, stammered and looked confused. “What?”

Beneath our feet all the world shook, punctuated by a crash of unholy thunder loud as the dying of suns. Valka staggered against me, but I caught her, steadied us on the uneven ground. “The hell . . .” I looked west to

where the column of flame had descended, a slash in the sky that now touched the horizon. Streaks of orange light yet fell from the heavens, tongues of flame tracing where the fiery remains of the ship had just fallen from the sky and crashed into the stonelands. “Bel, go! Find the old man!” I turned to Valka. “We need to round everyone up, get them onto the beach,

away from here.” “Away?”

“You can spot the camp from miles off—it’s a target!” The sky in the west choked on smoke, lit from beneath by still-burning flame.

Remembering the crash, I was bothered by the blue bursts of light cutting through the chaos. Attitude jets? Yes, they must have been. Ye Gods, they

had steered this way. Of course they had. They’d aimed for the one

continent on all Emesh. They were banking on walking out of here. I tried to remember details, but the chaos had burned them all away. “It could be one of our ships. Shot down.”

Valka stood off to one side. She hadn’t moved for a good ten seconds. “Shot down, maybe, but ’twas not human.” How she could tell through the smoke and noise I could not say. “I think you’re right. We need to get

everyone out of here.”

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