Chapter no 73 – Ten Thousand Eyes

Empire of Silence

IN THE ENSUING WEEKS I was witness to dozens of separate interrogations. To my relief, all of them were simply that: interrogations. Uvanari was kept in a private cell, isolated as Makisomn had been in a place just above sea level at the base of the Chantry bastille. The others were similarly isolated, kept from one another to grow truth from lies in separate gardens. Those

whose stories diverged from that of the majority were noted, watched,

compared against the others and against the tortured Uvanari. I was present for each session. Lord Mataro would not see me, nor Lady Kalima, nor

Knight-Tribune Smythe.

From all this, we concluded surprisingly little. Tanaran, who it seemed was some sort of clerk or minor logothete equivalent, spoke the determined truth the entire time, and from it and those that corroborated its narrative we discovered that I had been correct to trust Uvanari’s word. The Cielcin were not attacking Emesh, or else had not attacked it. The orbital forensics groups under the joint direction of House Mataro and the 437th Legion

corroborated this revelation, to even zealous Agari’s satisfaction. Theirs was not an invading force. It barely counted as military.

However I suffered for all this, no one seemed to care.

I sat alone in the suite appointed me, the same one I had occupied before my flight to Calagah. The count had appointed a pair of hoplites to stand

watch in the hall. I suspected they were there as much to police me as protect me, but I offered no complaint, nor did I try to leave my chambers

except when the Chantry sent for me. Anaïs visited and left messages on the room’s comm console. Sometimes she brought her brother along, hoping to persuade me into some game or idle distraction. I did all I could to keep my distance, and to my surprise the girl seemed to get the message. More than

that, she seemed to understand. Perhaps I was too cruel. They meant well, she and Dorian.

And so I was not surprised when a knock sounded on my door on the fifteenth day of interrogations. Whoever it was had been cleared by the guards, and so I opened it without hesitation. “What is it? What do you—” I shut up.

Valka Onderra stood in the doorway. She had cut her hair, removed the topknot she’d favored and cropped the sides and back short, leaving stray threads of black hanging about and across her face, obscuring one eye. The red in it glowed as she stood there, one hand drumming on the Umandh

comms pad clipped to one broad hip. Conscious suddenly of the darkness of my chamber, I waved a hand over the sensor pad, keying up the room’s illumination and casting the dark accents and darker oil paintings of space into relief.

“Valka!” I said, trying to sound bright. “I didn’t know you were back.” She smiled, a sad little thing—she must have heard what was happening

—but she didn’t seem angry. “Just this afternoon.” I half expected her to hit me. She did not hit me. “Home Defense Force closed Calagah for the

season, wouldn’t let us out of Springdeep until yesterday.” “And Elomas?”

“Trying to negotiate with the HDF to let him return to clean out the campsite. I think he left his wine.”

“Not the wine!” I did my best to affect an imitation of horror, but my heart wasn’t in it. Stepping aside, I waved a hand. “Would you . . . Would you like to come in?”

The Tavrosi doctor stood in the doorway surveying me, one hand still feeling the comms tablet. I was glad to see that she was allowed to continue carrying one in Borosevo even after the events that day in the fishery packing house. A part of me—a small and stupid part—needed to claim

some of the credit for that tiny victory, and I brightened to see it there. I know now that it had nothing at all to do with me. I only wished to believe that I had helped in light of everything else.

At last she spoke. “You look awful.”

I was sure I did. I had seen my face in the looking glass in the bathroom not ten minutes earlier. My face, always severe and angled, had acquired a waxen, sunken quality. My violet eyes were hooded and bruised; my ink-dark hair, once neatly combed, fell in a curling tangle past the point of my

chin. I probably smelled bad. The time I’d spent homeless in the canals below the castle ziggurat had broken my autonomic need to shower, and after what I had seen . . . well, I’d been forgetting to eat, much less do

anything else.

But Valka came inside without further comment, permitting me to shut the door. Aware of the cameras, I slumped into an armchair near the holograph plate and the low coffee table. The doctor surveyed the room, taking in the casual disarray of it, the drawing supplies scattered on the low table, the rumpled jacket flung over a chair, the empty wine glasses and half-filled water cups on shelves and counters and tables. She crossed to the window and pulled the paisley blinds, admitting the burgundy sunlight with a snap. “You should clean up.” She stood framed by the window, darkly feminine against the glass and the city below. I sighed.

“Servants will do it,” I said, but I began plucking the pencils from the table and from the broad open face of my journal, the exposed page depicting the image of an alien hand: six fingered, clawed, each finger with an extra joint, each joint too long to be human. Only three of the six fingers had claws, and one had been shortened to the knuckle. The skin at the wrist was flayed in a band two inches wide, the muscle exposed. At a glance it looked like a work out of some antique but fanciful anatomy text. It might have passed for just that were it not for the pain. Pain was always easy to portray, easier to feel.

“When was the last time you went outside?” Valka asked, then repeated, “You look awful.”

“There hasn’t been time!” The words came out harder than I’d intended, brittle and glassy. “I’ve been . . . I don’t want to talk about where I’ve been.”

Valka seated herself on the arm of the sofa opposite me, side-lit by the window. Her lovely face shone in sharp relief, both golden eyes shining, though one was in darkness. The music in her voice broke. “I . . . I’ve heard. Anaïs told me.”

“You’ve seen her?” I cradled my head in my hands, looked down at the thick carpet, a mandala-patterned thing in black and white done in imitation of the Tavrosi fashion popular in the Veil and the colony worlds. I tried not to think about Anaïs, about what she was.

“She’s worried about you. Says the Chantry has been forcing you to translate while they question the Cielcin.” I bobbed my head, looked around

for an abandoned glass that might still hold some wine. None was visible.

“But she also says you’re the reason they were all brought in alive. She said you’re a hero.”

The wry amusement Valka forced into her words was more than my exhausted, scream-addled mind could handle. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She thinks it’s all some grand adventure, Valka. It

isn’t.” My voice rose with each staccato pronouncement, and my fingers curled into claws. I was nearly shouting by the end, eyes blazing.

The woman swore in her native language, then hissed, “Imperials.” Her favorite curse. Somehow her scorn was comforting; the knowledge that

someone else in the universe shared my present fury helped, like light reaching for light across the dark material of civilization. “Can’t they use an autotrans like the rest of the civilized universe?” She shoved her hair back past her ears. I’d wanted to do that.

“A what? Oh.” A machine intelligence, one of the slave devices the Tavrosi saw as commonplace and the Chantry saw as sinful. “You know they can’t.”

Her strange eyes blazed. After a moment of companionable silence, she asked, “What are they like?”

“The Cielcin?” I looked away, out the window and over the red roofs

and the metal ones to the vast swath of the landing field, trying again to find the place in the labyrinth where another, younger Hadrian had been dumped naked to die. I had never gone back, never repaid the debt I owed the old

crone in the hospital flophouse, never revenged myself on the dock workers who had robbed me. I’d never figured out what happened to Demetri and his crew, either. How had it all turned out this way? Earth and God and Emperor, I should have been on Teukros, at Nov Senber. I should have been Tor Hadrian by then—should be Tor Hadrian now, dressed all in green. But there are other powers that move our world, powers greater than man.

Powers that, like time and tide, wait for none. Even Emperors, like starlight, bend to the blackest forces of natural law. I waited for the space of several breaths before saying, “They’re . . . They’re like us, but not so much as I first believed.”

I told her everything then: about the descent into the tunnels, about the standoff at the Quiet’s sepulcher, about Uvanari and Tanaran. I omitted my own messy role in the interrogation of the Cielcin in the tunnels. It is easy

to say only that I did not want Valka’s recovering opinion of me overturned,

but the truth was that I didn’t think I could share that particular episode then and there. The thought made me sick.

“We’re safe, though.” I rubbed my eyes with my knuckles, pressed myself back into the cushions of my armchair. “At least I think we are. It doesn’t seem as if the Cielcin were an invasion force. Even the Chantry has started to believe that.” I smiled my weakest smile.

Valka leaned in a little, eyes intent. “And they haven’t tried to . . .” She made a slashing gesture across her own throat.

“Kill me? No, no. They need me right now.” I stood up, gathered a few of the stray glasses from counters between my chair and the little kitchen area in one corner. I filled one with water from the filter unit, drained it, filled it again. “Do you want some? I may be out of wine.” Valka declined with a raised hand, and I leaned heavily against the granite counter. “I’m

trying to convince the knight-tribune to use the captives as leverage, to open peace talks with the Cielcin, but no one will listen. The count won’t even

attend council meetings. I think he just wants it all to be over.” And I think the Cielcin worship the Quiet, I wanted to blurt out, but leaden exhaustion and the sick, scalp-prickling sensation of being watched that had vanished while I stayed at Calagah crawled over my skin. I eyed the most obvious

camera in the room, a tiny black lens embedded in the room’s lighting and climate control panel. One of ten thousand eyes, I did not doubt, networked and feeding information into house security’s monitoring station that was

cataloged, if not actively reviewed by voyeuristic police.

“Can you blame him?” Valka asked, ringed fingers tracing the black lines on the back of her exposed left forearm.

“Gods, no!” I spun the cup like a humming top, the weighty glass rattling. I closed my hand around it to stop it spinning out of control. “But we need to be better, not anaryoch.”

She sniffed, but there was laughter in the sharp lines of her face. “Your pronunciation . . . ’Tis terrible, you know.”

“I’m sure it is.” I spun the glass again. What I was saying was probably safe enough, but the vast number of things I wanted to say and couldn’t was making me nervous. “I wish I could tell you more, Valka. I really do.” One never knew who was listening. Officially the recordings were exclusively for castle security, but he was a fool who thought the Chantry couldn’t gain access through one channel or another.

Valka hung her head, a little too crestfallen. “I understand. Imperial business.” To anyone who knew her, this sudden hangdog surrender was like a slap. I nearly let my cup fall again, but I caught it at the last second, still surprised. Briefly her jaw stiffened, muscles in her temples flexed, and her eyes drifted closed. And then the lights flickered and faded, leaving us

in darkness. Another of the castle’s frequent brownouts. I despaired, fearing the climate control would break down and leave us sweating in the dark.

She looked up, eyebrow arched, all Valka again. “I forget those stupid things are there.”


“The cameras. ’Twill be a few minutes before they get them back online.”

The cameras. “Ah.” It took a moment for what she’d said to fully process. Then I realized, remembered, and my eyes went wide. Ten thousand eyes had closed; we were alone. “How did you . . . ?” My eyes flicked to the room’s control panel. The tiny red light beside the camera was gone. “Are you sure?”

“Completely.” She tapped her temple. “What shall we talk about?

Murder? Treason?” I felt the blood drain out of my face, lurched to my feet.

Valka laughed, actually laughed, pointing at me. “Oh, your face!” She

wiped her eye with a finger, tapped her temple again. “I’m saving that one, Marlowe.”

I wasn’t laughing. My words escaped through my teeth. “Are you insane?”

“You’re the one acting crazy.” She smiled her most cutting smile. “No one heard me.”

I was slow to sit back down, certain that at any moment the guards outside would blast the wooden doors inward with a riot cannon, guns blazing. When nothing happened, I said, “But how?” I looked at the dead lights on my room’s environmental control panel. “The brownouts? It’s you?”

For the third time she tapped her temple. “Neural lace.” She’d used the phrase before in our first meeting.

“I don’t know what that means.”

She hissed something incomprehensible in her native tongue, then said, “I keep forgetting. Here.” Valka turned away, long fingers feeling the back of her scalp, parting the red-black hair. “Feel just here.”

“What? I—”

“Just do it.” I did, pressing my fingers against the base of her skull. There was something there, a lump no wider than a pea. Through the strands of hair, I could just make out the gleam of something white as

porcelain against her pale skin. I wasn’t sure what it was, wasn’t sure what to say, so I stood in confused silence, my hand still in her hair. “In Tavros,” she said, “we all get these as children, if our parent has the social credit.

You can take your hand out of my hair now.”

I withdrew my hand as if shocked. “Yes. Sorry,” I stammered, turning away. “But what . . . is it?” Even as I asked, fragments of my cultural heritage whispered in my ear. Demoniac. Witch. Sorceress. It was a machine, of that I’d no doubt. The perversion of the body with machines. She had committed one of the Twelve Abominations, one of the arch-sins for which the Chantry would execute anyone, anyone, without trial or

second thought. I recoiled inwardly, feeling a compulsive religious need to cleanse myself. But I knew one thing—Valka was not kidding about the

cameras being dead. How she had done it I could not say, but she would not have revealed such a thing without the utmost certainty that she was safe.

I’m afraid, I told myself. Afraid of Valka.

But fear was a poison, and whatever I was, I was better than that. “You can just”—I waved a hand—“do it?”

Her laughing demeanor collapsed like a wave. “There’s no just about it.” She pulled a face. “’Tis expensive.” She crossed her legs, the fading ripples of her smile ebbing from the cream of her face. “It has its advantages, however.”

With the same fascination the sheltered student shows for the macabre, I leaned forward. “Like what?”

Those golden eyes blazed. “Not now. You were saying?”

“Hmm?” I was a shadow of my best self, pressed flat and spread at distorted angles across the universe of truer things, distorted by the relativistic gravity of events. “Oh! The Quiet.” What I had discovered had been more or less entirely stamped from my mind, washed out by the

woman’s diabolic display of power. I told her everything then. I repeated

Uvanari’s confession that the Cielcin expedition had come to Emesh not for war but to pray in the chambers at Calagah. That was why they had steered their damaged ship for the ruins, of all the places on the vast globe—so that they might die in the halls of their dead gods.

“Why didn’t they turn around when their scout ship was attacked?” Valka asked, straightening her earthen vest.

“I think they were looking for something,” I said. “They are not here.” Valka’s brows rose, and I repeated the ichakta’s words in its native tongue. “‘Rakasuryu ti-saem gi.’ That’s what it said. They could be looking for

anything. The Cielcin have a culture based on plunder. That’s why they’re fighting us: for resources. Before we came along they had to parasitize their own fleets. It makes sense that they’d carry off any Quiet technology they

could find.”

She shook her head. “What Quiet technology? You’ve seen Calagah, Hadrian. ’Tis just stone.”

“Maybe on Emesh! But that can’t be true of all the ruins in this part of the galaxy.” I did not bring up my vision. I would not talk about it. Not


“I’ve been to Sadal Suud, to Rubicon. There’s nothing. We don’t even know how developed they were. They’ve left nothing.”

Mania wrestled with the flattened shadow of depression, and I sat up

straighter, pushed my long hair from my face. “Nothing we understand, but the Cielcin . . . Valka, the Cielcin evolved surrounded by all this. They must know something we don’t.”

She was quiet a long moment, beautiful face downturned. At last she nodded. “All right, what do you—” A knock sounded at the door. I froze.

Valka froze, and then her eyes slowly widened. “Are you expecting anyone?”

All I could do was shake my head. I had to swallow once, twice before I could find my words again. “Are you sure you stopped the cameras with your . . . whatever it is?” She looked hurt, but I didn’t waste time on egos. “You’d best . . .” I tapped the back of my head to indicate the demon machine crouched at the base of her skull. “We’ll talk later.”

“We’d better.”

As with Valka, I knew whoever it was at the door must have been vetted by the two Mataro hoplites standing like display armor in the hall, and so I opened the door without fear. “Sir Olorin!” I had trouble banishing the

surprise from my voice. “To what do I owe the honor?”

“No honor!” the man said with a jovial wave, shaking a dark bottle at me. “Pleasure! I was told I might find you here, that I had only to be looking for the guards.” He smiled an absurdly toothy smile at the two

masked and helmeted hoplites at attention on either side of my door, pointed cruciforms painted over the convex planes of their faces, doubtless hiding a profusion of sensor equipment. The Maeskolos still wore his

customary blacks, but they were silk and not leather. He had discarded the flowing crimson mandyas as well, and the shirt he wore hung open to the breastbone, displaying a plane of bronze chest and a square-cut gold medallion that reminded me of the one Demetri had worn, this one stamped with a single unbroken circle. I wondered at that a moment, doubtless

appearing either tired or a fool. Or a tired fool. At last the other man said, “May I come in?”

I blinked. “I . . .” I stepped aside, one slippered foot nearly tripping over the other. “Yes, yes, of course. Please.” He passed over the threshold, and I latched the door after shooting an unreturned smile at my guards. Mindful of the swordmaster’s declaration, I tried again. “To what do I owe the . . . pleasure, then?”

Sir Olorin Milta pivoted smartly on his heel, knee-high boots squeaking on the hardwood, three sword hilts swinging freely, knocking into one

another like wind chimes. “I’ve come to be understanding that the last few weeks have been . . . somewhat . . . trying. I thought you could use a drink.”

My politician’s reflexes, native-born in me and sharpened somewhat

since my time in Borosevo began, activated my fight-or-flight response, and the question began ringing like a klaxon in my ears: What does he want?

What does he want? What does he want? But I smiled. “Even if the times weren’t trying, I could hardly refuse. But may I introduce my . . .” My

what? My friend? My colleague? My muse? Valka had not stirred from the couch, unaware of or unmoved by the swordmaster’s lofty station. That

surprised me—I may have been a stuffy Imperial palatine, but the

Maeskoloi were the stuff of legend, even in Valka’s distant, ensorcelled home. “My . . . This is Valka Onderra, Doctor Valka Onderra, of Clan Onderra Vhad Edda.”

“Xenologist,” Valka added, her accent suddenly thickening as she rose and offered her hand to the effete Jaddian swordsman. There was a look in

her eyes not unlike that of a gourmand faced with a particularly grand cut of meat. She offered a hand to shake, which the Jaddian took and—to my private relief—did not kiss.

Olorin smiled, all teeth again, so white I thought them synthetic. “Sir Olorin Milta. Lovely to be meeting you. I . . .” He looked round at me. “Is

this a bad time, Marlowe?”

“Ah . . .” I hesitated on the verge of saying, Yes, I’m afraid so.

My eyes went to Valka, who was still examining the swordmaster, and she beat me to the punch. “Not at all. I should be going.”

“Must you?” Olorin’s eyes darted, weirdly, to me. He seemed to be mulling over some private thought, then refocused his attentions on the Tavrosi woman with deliberateness. “Please. My call is a social one. I’ve brought zvanya.” He proffered the bottle of pale orange brandy for the lady’s inspection. “Any friend of our friend the translator is a friend of mine.”

Friend? I eyed the swordmaster warily, glad his attentions were

elsewhere. When did that happen? To be sure, he hadn’t argued against

capturing the Cielcin as strongly as Lieutenant Lin had, but I wouldn’t have named him as a friend.

“What is it?” Valka asked, stooping over the peeled foil label.

“Zvanya!” the swordmaster repeated, rubbing his thin lips and the fine stubble growing over the hard planes of his face—evidently the Jaddians did not lase their pores in puberty. “You have not had it?” Valka said she had not, prompting the man to uncork the liqueur on the spot. “Tavmasie! Then you must stay, please! Please!” At his request I found a trio of clean tumblers and waited while Olorin poured three drams of the rose-clear liquid.

I sniffed speculatively at my glass. “Gods, that’s strong.”

“It is strong as it needs be! Buon atanta!” Olorin said with gravity, then slammed the entire glass back.

One after the other, Valka and I imitated him. The taste of raw cinnamon overpowered me, undercut with the flavors of strong wine and the barest trace of orange. All those notes were drowned, however, in a medicinal

alcohol bite clean and bright as fire. My eyes watered. Valka coughed. Olorin laughed. “Ehpa!”

“Cheers,” I said back. “But forgive me, Maeskolos—I don’t mean to

seem ungrateful, but . . . well, I’m rather surprised to see you here.” Valka had hurried over to the small kitchen area, where she was filling her tumbler with water. The Jaddian liqueur had not agreed with her, it seemed.

Catlike, the swordmaster settled into the armchair I had occupied moments earlier, his large, dark eyes scanning over my open journal with an air of detached interest. “I’d been wanting a word. Since Calagah.”

Valka cleared her throat. “You’re sure you don’t want me to go?” To my surprise she made a questioning gesture at the bottle of zvanya, prompting a polite wave from the swordmaster. “If you boys want to talk, I’d be happy to go elsewhere. I don’t want to intrude.”

“No!” I said too quickly, eliciting a sly smile from the Jaddian. “It’s not an intrusion. I wasn’t doing anything anyway.” And we aren’t finished talking, Valka, remember?

“Did you draw this, Lord Marlowe?” the swordmaster asked, changing the subject abruptly as he lifted my journal from the table.

I turned on the spot, looking over the swordmaster’s shoulder at the image of the Cielcin’s flayed wrist and broken fingers. Olorin lingered on the image a moment, his own fingers barely touching the charcoal-blackened claws. “I did. Am.” I shook my head, trying to clear it. “It isn’t finished.”

He flipped back a page, revealing a concept sketch of a Jaddian mamluk leaning on a ceremonial glaive. I am no longer sure where I saw one with

such a weapon, but the overlong bladed plasma spear made the spindle-legged homunculus appear even more like a marionette, knock-kneed and all elbows. He flipped back through the book quickly, passing a cloud of portraits—himself, Lady Kalima, Sir Elomas, Balian Mataro, Switch and Pallino. My mother. “These are remarkable. Quite . . .”

“Thank you,” I said, moving forward, teetering between politeness and a desire to demand the book’s return. I hovered just out of reach of the chair, as if my closeness could prompt the swordmaster to stop flipping.

Somewhere in the journal, nearer to the middle, was a drawing of Valka, one I did not want shared. Nothing tasteless, you understand, but neither was it meant for anyone but me.

Olorin closed the journal with a resonant bang and set the volume back on the table. “Another drink?” Valka, who had vanished a second shot in the interim, brought the bottle round and passed it to the swordsman, who filled his glass and mine before passing it back to her. When this second round had vanished, he said, “I wanted to be the one to tell you; I did not want the Chantry to be surprising you.” His voice fell to a whisper, and he closed long fingers around his newly emptied tumbler. “I’ve just come from a meeting. My lady and the count and your knight-tribune. They feel we’ve not made much headway in the past few days, and they want to try . . .

something else.”

“Something else? Have they not tried enough?” Then another question hit me, and I glanced briefly at Valka, who stood impassive by the high

counter that separated the kitchen from my sitting room. “Just the nobiles and Tribune Smythe? Not Grand Prior Vas?”

“The Chantry bruhir was not present, no.” Olorin slung one long leg over the arm of his chair and cracked his knuckles one at a time with a practiced calm. No, it wasn’t that—it calmed him, each popped joint bleeding tension away as surely as a scholiast’s aphorism. The man was marshaling himself, preparing to say the thing he’d obviously come down to my humble quarters to say. “They want you to speak to the captain.


“What?” I nearly dropped my glass, had to crouch in order to catch it.

When I straightened, I asked, “Are you serious?” That was what I’d wanted from the start. Ye gods, the damned bureaucrats had gone and done

everything backward.

The Maeskolos inclined his head, tangled black hair falling over his eyes. “I wanted to be the one to tell you.” A faint smile appeared on his

olive face, flashed like lightning, and was gone. “As a friend. You’ll get the call tomorrow.” I signaled my understanding, still standing there gormlessly with the empty zvanya glass in my hand. All at once I found myself unequal to the task of speech. “They’ll be monitoring your conversation, of course, but the creature won’t be harmed.”

Valka’s eyes hung on me like chains, and I resisted the urge to turn to her. I wanted to scream, to sag onto the hardwood floor and beat my hands against it until the flesh peeled from the bones and I smashed those too to flinders. It wasn’t over. I had not expected it to be over, but the desire was there, hot and remote in me. What I needed was to be home again, to be

safe in my own bed beneath painted constellations in a tower by the sea, to walk with Gibson on the high wall in peace and quiet.

I had no words for Olorin, who said, “What you did in those tunnels.

You did . . . better. You made us do better.” It was my word, thrown back at me out of yesterdays. My word and my curse: Better. “You were right. I’ve never heard of the Cielcin surrendering before. You did that.” He cast his gaze round at the disarray and clutter in my room, perhaps sensing the

apathy and dysthymia it implied. There was no judgment in his face, no pity, as there was in Valka’s. There was nothing, nothing at all. That should not have been a comfort, and yet it was. “You can refuse, of course.”

The first words that came to mind had to be stamped down, ground out. Instead I snarled, “This isn’t . . . I’m not playing good prefect, bad prefect!”

“What?” The Maeskolos looked confused. Valka had to stifle a grin. “I know how hard all of this must be for you. That’s why I wanted to tell you myself.”

“No! Damn it!” I almost shouted, surprising even myself. “You don’t understand. How could you? It’s not you in there every day. You don’t have to hear it scream; you don’t have to stand there and repeat everything it says and everything she says. You. Don’t. Have. To. Be. There.” I could feel the ten thousand eyes of castle surveillance upon me. “I do.”

“There’s a saying,” Valka said, bright voice shining through the cloud I’d gathered around myself. “Back home. That the galaxy is curved—that if you go far enough and fast enough, you wind up right back where you


Something about the way she said it—or perhaps only the fact that it was Valka who said it—took the wind from me. My shoulders slumped, then squared. “Fine,” I said in a voice like wind-etched stone. “I’ll do it.”

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