By Katherine Padilla © 2022
Chapter 1: The Empress’s Plot
Divine Prince Jahnzel Zarr, the Consecrated One, was out of control, and Divine Empress Jesalya Vahro-Zarr couldn’t tolerate it. A part of her wanted to put him on trial for treason and perhaps even apostasy. He seemed to have forgotten that those domes of light that had consumed the capitals and other Nationalist communities on the eve of the invasion nearly four months before were The Enemy. Without permission, he had dropped into the one in Kansas City to harass her sister Myri, who had been there on assignment to marry the native David Pierce and recruit him to work for the Holy Nation of the Son of God.
Perhaps she could have forgiven Jahnzel for that, had he been willing to disclose the details of his visit, but no! Instead he had stormed into Arulezz’s office and declared that the Nation was cursed and that the Divine Emperor’s empire would be destroyed if Arulezz and Jesalya didn’t bring themselves into harmony with the Satanic power that disguised itself as light. Just thinking about the encounter filled Jesalya with fury. The other part of her, however, recognized, as her husband did, that they needed Jahnzel to rebuild the fleet. She couldn’t crush him quite yet.
Jesalya had found a potential weakness, however, and was determined to exploit it if she could. She spent the day conducting interviews that turned out to be more disturbing than satisfying. When Arulezz returned to their apartment in Teton Palace that evening, she overlapped spirits with him, and they thought and felt together as she reported her findings.
Jesalya sat at her vanity as one of her ladies-in-waiting helped her out of her jewelry. I don’t know what to think about Varia Day as a potential wife for Jahnzel. On one hand, he did meet her, and his network use suggests that he’s been looking for information about her. On the other hand, she’s a defector to the domes.
Jesalya didn’t know who had first attached the label “domes” to the communities that had isolated themselves on the brink of the invasion, but it was so perfect that she looked for opportunities to use it. Whether the apostates lived in life-support domes on the Home World or under the duplicitous domes of light on Earth, they were traitors. And dangerous!
Arulezz smiled. He, too, enjoyed using the label “domes” to describe the communities of traitors. I’m not sure I care about that.
You should. Your brother admitted outright that he wants our people to return to the Home World and join with the domies. And now he’s showing interest in an apostate. Jesalya shook her head. I don’t like it, Lezz.
Arulezz removed the diamond jewel of rank from his red waist sash and set it in an open case on the vanity. In the tradition of noblemen, he had worn the jewel in his black hair before coming to Earth and adopting the short American style. I don’t like it either, but I think it would be foolish to dismiss Varia Day as a marriage prospect before we examine the facts.
Jesalya sighed. How can I disagree?
Her husband dropped the sash on a nearby chair. Jahnzel has been searching the Nation’s personnel records. He’s gone through thousands of them. He’s obviously looking for something, but he suspects that we’re monitoring him and doesn’t want us to know what he’s looking for.
Jesalya would have nodded had her lady-in-waiting not been removing the ruby necklace. He might have gotten away with it too. The fact that Varia Day is the one common denominator in all of his searches either makes her a meaningless piece of data—or strangely unique.
If he really has been searching for her, then something about her ought to stand out. They examined the telepathic recording given to Jesalya earlier in the day by one of Jahnzel’s younger guards. Jesalya expected Arulezz’s observations to be interesting and perceptive, and she attempted to keep her own opinions to herself to acquire his in a form as undiluted as possible.
On the morning of the invasion, Jahnzel walked into the control center of the Washington, D.C. Spaceport while a team of technicians tested the readiness of all communication devices. All of the technicians arose when they saw him.
Arulezz looked for a young woman with dark brown hair pulled away from her face in a plain bun, and eyes to match. He didn’t discern her at first glance, and Jesalya didn’t prompt him. The girl wore a steel-gray jumpsuit like all of the other technicians and blended in with them, despite the fact that her uniform bore no Star Force patch on the breast or rank patches on the shoulder.
“Petty Officer Trinaav!” Jahnzel cried. “Why hasn’t this young civilian woman been evacuated to Teton Colony?”
“Technician Day refuses to leave, my Prince.” Arulezz questioned why her superiors had not ordered her to evacuate and required her to obey. Did they need her that badly? Did that mean she was a good technician? Perhaps even an invaluable one?
Jahnzel strode toward the girl in that brisk way he had. The men in his guard followed in that hurried way they had, as if they were always trying to keep up with him. “Relax, Technician Day, and look at me.” He used a cordial tone, not a demanding one, and Arulezz recognized at once that he intended to persuade the girl, not command her, and wondered why.
“Why do you remain in Washington, D.C., Technician Day?”
“To do my duty, my Prince.” The girl’s cheeks were pink, and the same worshipful awe glowed in her eyes that both Jesalya and Arulezz had often seen directed at themselves by people of low rank.
“If you are so determined to make the spaceport’s readiness your duty, why have you not enlisted in Star Force?” Jahnzel’s choice of words amused Arulezz. Citizens of the Nation had not “enlisted” in Star Force since the Massacre Before the Flight. If the girl wasn’t in Star Force, she was in a protected class.
“I am forbidden by law, my Prince. I am the only surviving member of my family left in the Nation.”
“Then your duty, Technician Day, is to live, and if you stay here, you will become a target.” Again, he used a persuasive tone, as if he wanted her to believe that she had a choice. If he cared so much about her life, why didn’t he just command her to evacuate and be done with it?
“The last airbus has already left, my Prince.”
“That doesn’t matter. Get as far away from the spaceport as you can in the time left and take cover.” Jahnzel’s words left no room for dispute, but his tone was almost gentle.
“Please let me stay, my Prince. There is so much to do, and I can help!” The girl’s words astonished Arulezz. Was a technician actually arguing with a prince? Jesalya couldn’t restrain her own feelings of indignation.
Her indignation grew when Jahnzel grabbed the girl’s hands. He spoke in an urgent, concerned way. “There are too few of us left; we can’t throw away lives needlessly. You must live, Technician Day. I’m going to lose too many warriors in this battle as it is. Don’t give me another death to mourn. Go now.” He released her hands and waved his own in the direction of the exit.
The girl’s features relaxed, and her gaze became tender. “Thank you, my Prince. I’ll live. I promise.” Jahnzel nodded and turned away, and the girl hurried toward the spaceport’s exit.
Jahnzel shouldn’t have noticed her, Jesalya communicated as ruby-tipped pins were pulled from her hair and blond ringlets dropped to her back.
You’re right. I wouldn’t have.
And yet, his aesthetic instincts were responding to the girl. But you do think she’s beautiful. This in the man who had been repulsed by the very thought of his brother married to a woman of low rank!
Fair skin, lovely eyes, sweet expression, well-proportioned figure . . . yes, she’s very beautiful. Jesalya might have been jealous had her husband’s gray eyes not been hungrily watching the freeing of her hair.
But she has no elegance, no dignity. Jesalya’s revulsion swelled through them both. What natural beauty she has is buried under her technician’s rags and rank. It had been her idea to allow Jahnzel to choose his own wife, and she had thought that Myri’s rejection might make him prefer companionship over elegance, but now that he was showing interest in a laborer, she found that she was as repulsed as Arulezz had been when she had first suggested this plan.
Her beauty wasn’t immediately apparent to me either, but to Jahnzel . . . maybe. At the moment, Arulezz was more intrigued than repulsed—as if this were some sort of laboratory experiment instead of a task necessary to cripple his brother.
You think, then, that her beauty is what made her stand out to him?
Not exactly. Once look at that uniform, and he knew she was in a protected class. A beautiful young girl in a protected class there with the others ready to die—that would have stood out to him. Invoked his pity. And his curiosity.
But then she stood up to him. Jesalya’s lady-in-waiting carefully slid the ruby-studded gold combs out of her hair.
Which makes the technician not only beautiful but spirited and unique. I can believe that Jahnzel might be attracted to her. One thing is certain—he’s not repelled by her. Not at all. Arulezz removed his jacket and dropped it on the chair with the sash.
Jesalya still had a difficult time believing that even Jahnzel would spontaneously touch a laborer in such a way. She does meet my criteria almost perfectly.
Almost? She’s exactly what you were looking for. Didn’t you notice the grateful, even admiring way she looked at him? He could command any unmarried woman in the Nation to be his wife, but he has no power to command a woman to feel love for him, and there will be no dijauntu bond to compel it. This girl is different. It wouldn’t take much encouragement on his part to make himself loved as well as liege lord.
Jesalya’s lady-in-waiting rubbed her scalp, loosening her hair completely. The fact that she’s an apostate from the domes still makes me uneasy.
The thought of the Consecrated One being married to an apostate technician from the domes is too outrageous. And absurd. It would weaken him, all right. Isn’t that what we want?
Not if I get pressure to prosecute her for apostasy.
If Jahnzel plucks her out of that nest of traitors, the Quorum of High Priestesses will assume that we’ll interrogate her—and we will. No one’s going to insist on a trial if you’re the one to marry them and she keeps her beliefs to herself. Besides, the threat of a trial will keep Jahnzel in control. Isn’t that what we want?
Jesalya removed her rings. What if he decides to defect to Washington, D.C. himself?
He’s not that stupid.
How can you believe that after his tirade?
That’s all it was—a tirade. Where is he now? On the Empress of the Stars. Building ships. Not in Washington.
No, not in Washington chasing down this girl he may have been looking up, Jesalya reminded.
That’s a really good point, and yet, if he is interested, he would be cautious. A prince courting a technician would be unprecedented, and she does live in a place that isn’t under our control, which would complicate matters. It would be awkward, and time-consuming, and he would be concerned about her safety. If we want him to take that step, we need to make him believe she’s unsafe.
Then you’re presuming that he really is interested in her.
One of Arulezz’s attendants handed his evening cup of hot tea to him, a mixture of spicy herbal flavors that didn’t exist on Earth, then took the suit jacket and sash and left the room. If the only common denominator in his searches were an old married woman, I’d dismiss this as nothing. But a beautiful, tragic, unmarried girl? Arulezz shook his head. Varia Day is no meaningless piece of data.
Jesalya lifted her arms as her ruby-embellished belt was removed. The evidence points to interest, but we don’t know what kind of interest. It might be professional.
Arulezz studied the liquid in his cup. Which would also work. He deeply inhaled the aroma of the tea as he always did. It reminded him of his boyhood on the Palace with his family. If he pulls a beautiful, unmarried girl out of the domes and takes her onto his ship, even for professional reasons, his subordinates would gossip.
Jesalya hadn’t thought of that, but he was right. Yes, they would. And all I’d have to do is ask a few of them if he’s ever been alone with her, and they would start wondering if she could be a paramour. Jesalya loved the possibilities inherent in that set of circumstances.
Arulezz chuckled and lifted the cup to his mouth. My all-business, law-abiding brother with a paramour? Who would believe it? The jewelry cases snapped as they were shut.
Arulezz was too amused, and Jesalya felt a little silly, realizing she had overshot the mark. I suppose the possibility of a little interest in a low-ranked woman—a little flirtation—would be adequate for our purpose. The lady-in-waiting quickly collected the outer clothing and shoes Jesalya had shed.
I only want to deflate him somewhat—not destroy him.
Jesalya didn’t like making this kind of compromise with the false light, especially after Jahnzel’s tirade, but Varia Day was too great a weakness to ignore. We may never get another opportunity like this. Jesalya’s lady-in-waiting curtsied and left the dressing room.
Arulezz set his cup of tea on the vanity and draped his arms around Jesalya’s shoulders. You struck arelada, my darling. Let’s find out just how interested in this pretty technician he actually is.
But if we’re wrong, pushing that girl at him will only make him less vulnerable, not more.
He kissed her neck. Not if our push is invisible.
Arulezz transferred Jahnzel’s observant young guard to his own security team that very evening. Days passed, and neither Jesalya nor Arulezz could ignore the nagging feeling that Varia Day meant something to Jahnzel. As they studied the situation together, they eventually understood how they could use Varia as bait in a trap for him.
Arulezz was the one who finally made the decision. Now that your sister is officially the governor of the traitors in Washington, it’s time to leverage her position.
And if Jahnzel doesn’t fall for the bait?
Then our little trap will be a good test of Myri’s loyalty.
Chapter 2: The Technician’s Rebellion
Varia Day picked at her fingernails as she waited in the sitting room adjoining the Palace bedroom that the new governor, Saintess Myri Zarr-Vahro, had temporarily given to Bishop Eugene Pierce to use as an office. The Nation’s new ward was using Saintess Myri’s grand estate home as a meeting place until construction on their new urban chapel in Bethesda could be completed. Bishop Pierce wanted to get to know all of the members of the congregation and scheduled several interviews a week.
Varia had purposely scheduled her appointment to be the last of the evening. She needed to share her unique knowledge with Saintess Myri, and this meeting was her key to doing that. Bishop Pierce had recently arrived in Maryland with his wife Elizabeth and other family members from Missouri. His youngest son, David, was betrothed to Saintess Myri, which meant that Bishop Pierce had unique access to her.
As Varia thought about the betrothal, she felt tense with anger. Mr. Pierce seemed to be an admirable native, but he could be nothing next to her Prince, the man who should have been Saintess Myri’s husband. How could she have rejected Jahnzel that way?
Varia sprang out of her chair and began pacing. She understood that Bishop Pierce conducted these particular interviews with Madame, no, Sister Lili Fennyal, who, as a former priestess, acted as a chaperone for the young women and a voice of comfort for those citizens of the Nation who might be disconcerted by some of the practices of their new church.
She and her husband, the former ambassador of Tohmazz Zarr to the United States, had been governing the Nation in Washington, D.C. ever since the Light had come. Everyone deferred to Saintess Myri now, of course, but they still looked to the Fennyals—who were high aristocrats with decades of experience—as the real governors of the community.
Addressing each other as “brother” and “sister” was one of the new practices, and Bishop Pierce insisted on it, although if someone preferred to be called by his or her given name when at church or involved in church assignments and activities, that was all right too. Varia wasn’t too nervous about speaking with Bishop Pierce, but how could she say anything in front of Sister Fennyal?
The door to the office opened, and Varia jumped at the sound. A young woman she didn’t know walked out of the office and nodded once at her in acknowledgement as she passed. Varia lifted her eyes toward the white office door.
Instead of Sister Fennyal, Saintess Myri herself appeared. She wore a light blue gown made of a luxurious, shimmering fabric and a multistrand pearl necklace. Her pale blond hair brushed her shoulders in a short style that would have looked jarring on any woman of the Nation, but on Saintess Myri, the image was hideous. It reminded Varia that the saintess’s hair had been cut before coming into the Light to appeal to David Pierce—not Prince Jahnzel.
Saintess Myri smiled. “I’m happy to meet you, Sister Day. Or would you rather I address you as Varia?”
Varia did not want Saintess Myri to address her as “sister.” It was too intimate and could be nothing but insincere coming out of the mouth of someone in Saintess Myri’s position of power. “Please call me Varia, my Sa . . . Sister Vahro.” Varia felt as if she would choke on the words.
Saintess Myri extended her hand toward the door. “Please, come and have a seat.”
Varia couldn’t move. She needed to communicate with Saintess Myri, but not like this. How could she tell her anything without telling her everything?
“I’m sorry, Varia. I’m afraid my presence has startled you.”
Varia began to curtsy, then stopped herself. They weren’t supposed to do that either. “I’m sorry . . . Sister Vahro. I was expecting to see Sister Fennyal.”
“Sister Fennyal has another commitment this evening, but she’ll be delighted to hear how deeply she was missed.”
Varia had no idea how to reply. She followed Saintess Myri into the office. She exchanged a handshake and greeting with Bishop Pierce. Her Prince had been the last human being to touch her, and the sensation was strange and nice. That, and her anger and alarm at seeing Saintess Myri made her tremble, which embarrassed her. Bishop Pierce released her hand and extended his toward a padded carved-wood chair. “Please sit, Sister Day, and make yourself comfortable.”
He was an older man, with graying brown hair, green eyes, and wrinkled hands with hard spots on them. They were working hands, like hers. Varia understood that he had, in fact, spent much of his life doing a job that was similar to hers; the natives called it “electrician.” The hands and the accent of his voice were different from the other natives she had encountered in Washington, D.C. Except for being in a suit instead of denim trousers, a T-shirt, and a blue cap with “KC” on it, he was exactly the way she had seen him in her dreams, and she liked him.
Saintess Myri seated herself near Varia in a chair that matched hers and said, “We understand that you’ve been working many long hours to install synthesizing machines around the community.”
Varia gazed at her lap. “That is correct, Sister Vahro.”
“This is critical work that will make life easier for many, many people. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Sister Vahro.”
“Please tell us about your training and last assignment.”
“I was born on the cruiser Comet and did my apprenticeship on the mining ship Extraction.”
“How interesting. Were you on the team that excavated Teton Colony?”
Varia looked up at Saintess Myri. She really did appear interested. Was that because the Extraction and the Palace, Saintess Myri’s own ship, had been the two ships that had been disassembled and completely remodeled to create Teton Colony? Was that because she had lived in a palace, surrounded by views of the beautiful mountains and Varia had lived in a bunker, surrounded by her machines?
“Yes, Sister Vahro. I serviced the equipment used by the terraformers both in orbit and on the ground.” No, in the ground. “After that, I served two years on the Divine One’s planetary repair team.” What a wonderful assignment that had been, traveling around the planet in the open air, with a few hours off work now and then to enjoy the exotic places! “When I turned eighteen, I was reassigned to the Washington, D.C. Spaceport.”
“I’ve never heard of the Divine One’s planetary repair team.” Bishop Pierce sounded surprised.
Saintess Myri turned to Bishop Pierce. “No, you wouldn’t have, because the emperor meant it to be a secret from the natives. He had a large staff of young life scientists and terraformers who helped him with the rejuvenation projects he conducted on various areas of the planet.”
“That sounds like very interesting work, Sister Day. Did you like it?”
Varia glanced at Bishop Pierce. He appeared fascinated. She felt the corner of her mouth lift a little. “Yes, very much.” She had learned so much in those two years! And had been privileged to taste the pristine beauty of Crystal’s essence before the planet-spirit blossomed into the Light!
“Did you do any actual terraforming?” Saintess Myri asked.
“Only when I ran tests on the equipment.” Varia’s heart began racing again. This would be the time to tell her that she had spoken with the planet-spirit and what she had learned, and yet, she didn’t know how without telling her everything.
“Do any of the scientists and terraformers you worked with live in Washington, D.C.?”
Varia shook her head.
“Do you know where they are?”
“The Divine One was so determined to have an outpost that he sent the terradirector and many in his team to Eden. Those of us that didn’t go were reassigned to the fleet or to installations on the ground to be a support to the fleet. The others, without a doubt, died in the invasion.”
Neither the bishop nor the saintess replied. Varia knew that the Eden Colony was presumed dead, but neither the bishop nor the saintess knew that she knew. Was that why her mention of the Eden Colony made them uncomfortable? Varia tapped her fingers on the armrest of the chair, crossed her legs and then crossed them again.
Eventually Bishop Pierce asked, “What brought you into the Light, Sister Day? If you were assigned to the Washington, D.C. Spaceport, you must have been one of the first to enter it.”
Bishop Pierce’s question gave Varia determination. There was only one answer, and because of that answer, she was obligated to speak. Varia finally met Bishop Pierce’s gaze. “Yes, I was one of the first. I came because I made a promise to the Consecrated One.”
“The Consecrated One spoke to you? Where? In the Washington, D.C. Spaceport?” Why did Saintess Myri sound as if she didn’t believe it?
Varia glanced at the saintess and nodded. “I was ready to die with the others who were preparing for battle, but the Consecrated One commanded me to evacuate. He saved my life.”
Varia was afraid that if she looked at Saintess Myri again, she would lose courage, so she lifted her gaze to Bishop Pierce’s friendly face and told them about her encounter with her Prince at the Washington, D.C. Spaceport. “I promised him that I would live, and I didn’t know where else to go but here, into the Light. I summoned a taxi, and before I even came into the Light, I could feel the telepathic touch of Earth’s planet-spirit. She was full of joy in a way I had never felt before.”
“You’re certain it was the planet-spirit you felt?”
Saintess Myri’s skepticism emboldened Varia. High priestesses were the telepathic experts in the Nation to be sure, but they worked with people, not planet-spirits. Varia turned her gaze on the saintess. “Yes, my Sa . . . Sister Vahro. In my work with the terraformers, I had many opportunities to feel Earth’s essence; I know her. And even if there had been any question at all—which there wasn’t—she spoke to me.”
As Saintess Myri opened her mouth to speak, Bishop Pierce said, “That’s amazing! I didn’t know planet-spirits could talk.”
“It’s one of the new things she can do,” Varia quickly explained before Saintess Myri could contradict her. “In my own experience, a planet-spirit can only communicate telepathically and with only one person—the terradirector. I was astounded that she would speak to me, but she did, that one time. She asked me to call her Crystal, and said that she could do many new things, but she didn’t explain what all of those things are. That night, however, I had a dream, and I saw a huge beam of energy pouring into the temple from Heaven, then from the temple into the ground. It turned the ground under the Light to crystal, and it’s so powerful that the crystal expands even under the dark areas of the planet, like roots under a tree. Now that Crystal is actually turning to crystal, she’s free to let her essence shine.”
Saintess Myri leaned toward Varia. Her deep green eyes were wide with astonishment. “Are you suggesting that the Light is actually the planet-spirit?”
“I believe it is, Sister Vahro. Yes.” Varia pondered what she should say next, trying to remember the exact words her Prince had used when they had—in their final, fateful dream together—discussed her theory. “But it’s a dangerous piece of information that we should be careful with.”
“I agree. Your experience is unique among our people here in the Light. It’s also extremely important, and I would like to study it further. Would you feel comfortable telepathically sharing your conversation with the planet-spirit and your dream of the temple with me?”
Varia wondered how she could share anything telepathically without arelada—Saintess Myri hadn’t worn the ring containing her Awareness monitor and arelada since meeting Mr. Pierce in Kansas City. “No, Sister Vahro.”
The answer popped out before Varia could consider the ramifications of her response, and she immediately felt guilty and perplexed. She had never refused a request from a person of higher rank—at least not in real life. She understood Saintess Myri’s desire and also felt a strong urge to tell someone about her dreams; they had been such a blessing and burden. That someone simply couldn’t be Saintess Myri.
“Perhaps you would be more comfortable if Bishop Pierce were not in the room?”
It had never occurred to Saintess Myri that a lowborn citizen would say no to her, so she had misunderstood Varia’s refusal. It did occur to Varia that she could redeem herself by being disloyal to her Prince. The thought amused her, because she would never be disloyal to her Prince!
When Varia understood that she was going to choose to be impertinent—and visible, because invisibility required compliance—she also understood her true desire. “Thank you for your concern, Sister Vahro, but I would prefer to speak with Bishop Pierce alone.”
Saintess Myri stared at Varia, baffled. Then she stood and said, “As you wish.”
“Thank you, Sister Vahro.” Varia couldn’t help but be amazed that her impertinence hadn’t resulted in a chastisement. Perhaps she was freer to be herself than she had believed.
Chapter 3: The Technician’s Secrets
As soon as the door shut behind Saintess Myri, Varia’s tension subsided somewhat. “Thank you, Bishop Pierce, for being willing to speak with me alone.”
“I’m flattered that you would be that comfortable with me.”
“Actually, you shouldn’t be. I’m willing to tell you about my dreams because I know you. I’ve seen you in so many of those dreams, and I’ve seen your home in Missouri.”
“Excuse me for saying this, Sister Day, but that’s downright disturbing. Why in the world would I be the subject of your dreams?”
He sounded troubled, as any normal person would be, but he didn’t sound offended. Varia was relieved that he had replied in a way that made it easier. “You weren’t the subject of my dreams; my Prince was. I couldn’t talk about the dreams with Sister Vahro here. He doesn’t want her to know about the dreams, but he does want her to know what I know about Earth’s planet-spirit and the Light.”
“It sounds like you’ve been in contact with the prince.”
“I hadn’t thought about it in quite those terms, but yes, my Prince and I dreamed together for a month and a half after that horrible day at your house. But that’s not the beginning of the story.”
“Then go ahead and start from the beginning.”
“In that conversation I had with Crystal when I came into the Light, she told me that she and the angels presiding over my people here on Earth would help me fulfill my glorious mission. I watched the fleet get destroyed on the television, and I thought my heart would break for all who were dead, and the voice of the angel Zarr told me to trust Prince Jahnzel and pray for him, that he was the hope of our future. This was so obvious that I almost didn’t need to be told, and I did pray for him. Then when I had the dream about the temple, the Blessed Sons Zarr and Vahro appeared to me. You know who they are, don’t you?”
Bishop Pierce nodded. “The founders of your nation. Christ healed their mother when He visited your people, and they became great prophets and kings and the ancestors of Prince Jahnzel and Saintess Myri before they were translated and taken into Heaven.”
“When I observed that they looked like my liege lord the Divine Prince Jahnzel, they told me that I had chosen my liege lord well and that my Prince’s faith was true. They also told me that he wasn’t ‘divine,’ that he was in danger of being destroyed by despair, and that I had a mission to give him a reason to live. The thought of it frightened me, and a part of me wanted to say no, but I thought about my Prince and how he had saved my life and been so kind to me, and how it would be a tragedy for the Nation if he were destroyed.”
Bishop Pierce smiled. “That would be a tragedy. I assume you accepted the mission.”
“I did, although I had no idea how someone like me could actually do it. The angel told me to keep praying for him and that I would be shown the way. I did pray for him for many weeks, and then I had a dream of everything that had happened to him from the time we met at the spaceport until that horrible day when he visited your house.”
“What exactly did you see?” Bishop Pierce folded his hands on his desk and leaned closer.
“It started with the grueling battle with Nexyun and Jaxzeran. He fought hard—oh so hard! And it wasn’t even close to being enough, because they had twice as many ships as we did—even more—but he still felt like a failure. Losing so many ships and warriors devastated him, and so did learning that his father was dead, although he believed that his father deserved to die, and that made him feel guilty. He was still under cover in China when it happened, and his father wasn’t supposed to be in D.C. at all, and my Prince thought it was wrong that he fired on those defenseless trucks. I was with my Prince when his brother became the new Divine One and he became the Consecrated One. He was empty inside that day, like a black hole. The black hole began filling with anger when the Divine One broke his betrothal to Sister Vahro.”
Bishop Pierce gazed at her in fascination. “So you didn’t just see it all, you actually experienced it . . . everything.”
Varia nodded. “I was with him when he intercepted messages between Sister Vahro and the Divine One after she had been sent into the Kansas City Light. I saw his bewilderment and anger at her. I saw him re-evaluate her final message after her bodyguard Captain Sauvel returned to Teton Colony. I was in the shuttle with him when he heard the Blessed Son Zarr tell him that your son is ‘the truest friend’ he has. He didn’t believe it, but when your son suggested later that they work together to overthrow the Divine One, he started understanding.”
A look of realization came over Bishop Pierce’s face. “David felt it too, although I don’t think the prince told David what the angel said.”
“No, he didn’t, but he felt the friendship when he spoke with your son later. I saw him come into the Light and communicate with Sister Vahro in your basement. When she gave him a telepathic vision of everything she had experienced since leaving him in Teton Colony, I received it too. When he learned that the Divine One had put a cell bond on Sister Vahro and had commanded her to do the Holy Joining with your son, he was horrified. When she left him there in your basement alone, he collapsed to the floor, and he was shaking, and he said, ‘Dear God, give me a reason to live or end my life right now.’ Seeing this proud, heroic man who had saved my life so overwhelmed by despair gave me such pain that I wanted to put my arms around him and weep with him, even though he’s a prince, and I’m only a technician. That’s silly, isn’t it?”
Bishop Pierce shook his head. “It’s not silly at all.” Varia may have been mistaken, but she thought she saw tears glisten in the corners of his eyes.
“That’s when Crystal gave him a vision of me praying for him. My prayers gave him hope, and he was able, then, to get up and speak with you and your wife and tell your son and Sister Vahro to marry soon and disappear. We relived these events over and over in our dreams together.”
Bishop Pierce leaned back in his chair. “What you say, Sister Day, is amazing. You know things that only a few people do. I don’t doubt that what you saw was real.”
It was a simple statement, but one of such support that Varia relaxed completely. “Neither do I—now. I doubted that what I was seeing about my Prince was real at first. Then I suspected it was. Then when you and your family arrived in Washington with Sister Vahro, I knew it was.”
The details of the dreams poured forth. “After his terrible visit to your house, he went to Teton Colony to give a message from the Light to the Divine One and the Hallowed One—that their empire would be destroyed if they didn’t repent. They were offended and told him he was crazy. In real life, he left in outrage, but in the dreams, he shot them with the immobilizer he carries. The dreams always ended with us lying in beautiful coffins in the Hall of Thrones, with flowers everywhere.”
“Lying in state, you mean.”
“Yes, we were lying in state, and thousands and thousands of the living and dead of our Nation were there crying over us. There were people who had died in our recent battles and others who were wearing old-fashioned clothing, not just from our centuries in exile, but from long, long ago.”
“Sounds like the sort of thing that could make a girl feel real good about herself. It also sounds seriously creepy.”
Varia nodded. “That’s a good word to describe it. I was wearing my work uniform—the one I was wearing when I met my Prince in the spaceport.” Varia motioned to the dress she was wearing, which was long, plain, and made of a dark blue synthesized fabric meant to simulate polished cotton. “When I wasn’t in my coffin, I was wearing this, my best gown. My Prince was always wearing his uniform, both in his coffin and out of it.”
“You don’t think it was strange that you were lying in state with a prince?”
“Of course I do. Technicians don’t lie in state. But all of this happened in dreams—there was nothing in them that wasn’t strange. I don’t know how many times he killed the Divine One and Hallowed One in those dreams, and I tried to stop him every time. I did everything I could think of. I screamed at him. I knocked the immobilizer out of his hand. I pushed him down. I would have shot him myself if I’d had an immobilizer!”
Bishop Pierce raised his eyebrows, and Varia realized that her intensity had taken him aback a bit. She quickly added, “I would have only stopped him, of course, not killed him.”
“Why did you want to stop him from killing the emperor? It was, after all, only a dream.”
“Because my mission was to keep him alive, and I was afraid if he kept doing it in his dreams, he would do it in real life. That would be suicide, and he knew it, but he kept doing it anyway, and with the single-minded determination that possesses him in battle. Even when I was able to stop the execution—which didn’t happen very often—he would do some little thing that would kill me too, like push me out of the way. Then all the living and the dead of the Nation would pass by our coffins yet again, and my parents talked about how hate had turned his heart to stone, and that made me angry.”
“They didn’t seem to understand at all that his heart was broken, not made of stone, which was why he felt the way he did, and nothing I said changed their minds. My Prince finally seemed to get the rage out of his heart, and the time came when he didn’t execute the Divine One and Hallowed One or accidentally hurt me at all, and we still ended up in the coffins. That’s when my parents started talking about me, and my ‘self-imposed humiliation,’ and my Prince told me that I, too, had a mission to live, and it wasn’t to be his ‘bodyguard.’”
“Did he have any ideas about what that mission would be?”
“Yes, one, and it was obvious, really, after I thought about it. He reminded me that the reason I was forbidden to serve in Star Force at all—the reason he had saved my life—was because I need to live to provide posterity to my dead family and the Nation.”
“You’re right. That is obvious. What else did he say?”
“He started calling me ‘Varia’ instead of ‘Technician Day,’ and he insisted that I call him ‘Jahnzel.’ I was appalled, but he assured me that we were friends now, since we had saved each other’s lives. The whole thought of it overwhelmed me, and I ran from him. I’ve lost count of how many dreams I ran from him.”
“How did he feel about that?”
“Frustrated and confused. And worried, because, according to the dreams, we were both still dead. He couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t call him ‘Jahnzel’ and refused to accept it. When he didn’t see me, he called for me, and when I didn’t come, he looked for me. And when he found me, I ran, and he chased me. No, chased isn’t the correct word. It makes what happened sound too much like a children’s game. He pursued me. Relentlessly. And hunted me.”
“With that same ‘single-minded determination that possesses him in battle’?”
“Yes. That was exactly it. I hid from him, and often he would come so close that he would have heard me if I had so much as whispered. He started doing outrageous things to call me out, like kill his brother (after he had stopped doing it), because he knew it would make me angry and that I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from screaming at him. And he was right. I did scream at him. And he was glad!”
“Why did you run from him? What were you so afraid of?”
Varia wasn’t sure she wanted to tell him, but now that she had finally revealed the memories and emotions she had kept buried for so long, she couldn’t restrain their flow. “It really is silly, as I told you before. My feelings for him are too deep . . . and passionate . . . and completely inappropriate.” Varia looked down at her hands in her lap.
“You love him and didn’t want him to know.” Bishop Pierce said it in such a way that it sounded like a statement, not a question, and completely inevitable.
She sighed. “He’s in my head constantly, and in my heart, and in my blood, and he won’t go away, so I work all the time and don’t go home until I’m ready to pass out. The work is so boring, though, that it can’t possibly compete with him. Then I want to sleep and dream so that I can be with him, and then I start understanding the heathen rival fleets and their vision tubes and I hate myself for wanting to be like them. But then when I was with him in my dreams, I hid from him, and then I ran, because, as much as I wanted to be with him, the thought that he would discover how I felt about him mortified me.”
“I can’t imagine that the consequences would be as terrible as you believe. If the vision of you praying for him gave him hope, learning that you love him might really cheer him up.” The bishop’s voice was so gentle and sincere that Varia felt comfortable looking up at him again. He was smiling.
Bishop Pierce’s attitude toward her feelings consoled her a little, but as she had suspected, he didn’t understand. “You’re very kind, but he’s loved Sister Vahro his whole life. If he knew, he couldn’t return my feelings, so he would pity me, and that would be worse, somehow, than the contempt other men of his station would feel.”
Varia shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know that I could more easily bear his contempt than his pity.”
“For ‘only a technician,’ I think you’re a very proud young lady, Sister Day.”
He didn’t say it in a tone of reprimand, but he didn’t seem to be complimenting her, either. “Do you think that’s good or bad?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. But it makes me not at all surprised that a ‘proud, heroic man’ like the prince would want you to be his friend.”
“In real life, even friendship between us would be impossible, and he knows it! He’s never anything but proper and professional to everyone who works for him, and if I were a technician on his ship, I would never be in a position to work for him directly. Even if I came into contact with him, I couldn’t call him ‘Jahnzel.’ It would be unthinkable. It would be wrong for him to require that of me!”
Her vehemence surprised the bishop. “When you put it that way, you’re right—it would be wrong. And yet, a man needs friends. Who’s a prince allowed to be friends with?”
“Other nobles, of course.”
“Are there other noblemen on his ship?”
“No. There weren’t very many to begin with, and he spread them out in the fleet.”
“So they’re all dead.”
Varia nodded slowly. “Except for the Divine One, some children, and a few whose minds aren’t what they were.”
“Which means it would have been hard for him to have a friend—until you showed up in his dreams. Miraculous dreams that didn’t take place on his ship.”
Was the bishop taking her Prince’s side in this matter? She hesitated, then admitted, “He said the same thing—that this was only a dream, not real life, and I asked him, ‘What if it becomes real life?’ He didn’t know, but he seemed intrigued by the idea. Too intrigued. He assured me that if we met in real life, he wouldn’t treat me in the cold, formal way dictated by protocol, and that really scared me, and so I ran from him again.”
“Did you ever stop running from him?”
“Yes. After you and your family came to D.C. He told me how much he wanted and needed me to be real, and I believed him. I believed that before he told me, and if I hadn’t, I don’t think I could have faced him even then. I told him about my conversation with Crystal and my own theories of the Light. He made me promise to tell Sister Vahro what I knew about the Light, and I made him promise not to kill his brother outside of the law. That was the end of the dream.”
“You didn’t end up dead in your coffins again?”
“No.” Varia felt exhausted, drained, and relieved of an enormous weight.
The bishop waited a moment, then asked, “Have you shared any more dreams with Prince Jahnzel since then?”
“No, but I don’t expect to, especially now that I’ve done what I was supposed to do.” Varia fought down the bittersweet feeling that came with that realization.
“Are you certain, Sister Day, that you have done everything you’re supposed to do?”
Bishop Pierce’s suggestion that Varia had more yet to do disconcerted her. “Do you think I have more to do?”
“I think you could answer that question better than I can. Do you think that Prince Jahnzel still needs you to give him a reason to live?”
The question troubled Varia. “I don’t know.”
“If you’re not sure, then maybe he does.”
“What should I do?”
“I can think of no better answer than the one the angel gave to you—that you should keep praying for him and will be shown the way.’”
Varia nodded and stood up. “Thank you—I think.”
Bishop Pierce arose and extended his hand. “I understand that Sister Vahro can’t know all of the details of what you just told me, but I think she’ll want to keep you close to learn all she can from you about Crystal.”
Varia shook his hand. “I’m not sure I understand.”
“Just don’t be surprised if she wants to talk to you again.” He walked with her to the door. Before he opened it, he said, “She’s your age, you know, and has a good heart. You might be friends.”
Varia laughed a little. “You really are very kind, Bishop Pierce—much kinder than I am. Aside from the fact that technicians don’t become friends with noblewomen, even in the Light, I might as well confess right now that I can’t stand Sister Vahro for what she did to my Prince, and calling her ‘sister’ makes me want to break something! I’m sure your son is a wonderful person, but my Prince is . . .” She gesticulated and gazed over his shoulder, trying to think of a big enough word in English to describe her beloved Prince.
“Larger than life?” the bishop suggested. He appeared more amused than offended that Varia thought Prince Jahnzel was so far above his son.
She examined the phrase in her mind, and then shook her head. There was no word—only an image. “It’s close, and maybe it does apply, but he’s more than that. I want to say star, but not just any star—a special kind of star. The one I’ve missed seeing since I came into the Light. The one all the others appear to rotate around.” She moved her finger in a circling motion.
“The North Star.”
“Yes. I could tell you all about the triple star system that is Polaris, but I won’t, because I love the mystique of the night sky as much as I love the clarity of the Light.”
“For ‘only a technician,’ Sister Day, you have a very poetic mind.”
“You’re very, very kind, but I really don’t—in general. Maybe it’s just that I know my Prince. He’s supposed to be the North Star, and what Sister Vahro did to him made him more into a falling star, and I’m not sure I can ever forgive her.”
“I think you would do well, Sister Day, to never forget that Prince Jahnzel is just a man—a man who makes his own choices about whether he wants to be like the North Star or a falling star . . . and who he wants to be close to him. My impression when he left Kansas City that terrible day was that Sister Vahro isn’t on that list anymore. But why am I telling you this? As the prince’s attentive and very valued friend, I’m pretty sure you already know that.”
The bishop’s words frightened Varia, and she didn’t know why. She looked down and frowned, then opened the door and slipped away.
Since Myri was still acting in the role of Varia Day’s chaperone, she waited in the sitting room connected to Eugene’s office. The girl, herself, had been as strange as the information she had revealed and, Myri had to admit, had made her angry.
She examined what had happened again and again and finally understood what it was about Varia Day that irritated her. The girl had an attitude of lowliness combined with suspicion and impertinence that reminded her of Lieutenant Lanner Laddan, the low aristocrat who had defected to the Light in Kansas City and had become the governor there. The same Lieutenant Laddan who had never trusted Myri and who had left the Light after their new church had announced that everyone—no matter what their station—should become proficient in telepathy, thereby destroying their Nation’s tightly ranked social order.
Despite the fact that Varia knew the new policy, she had still refused to show her experiences telepathically to Myri. Myri understood that new policies didn’t easily erase deeply entrenched old protocols, but even under the old protocol, Varia should have shown her memories if they involved her work, and certainly she understood that her exchange with the planet-spirit had been more important than the work she did installing synthesizing machines.
Myri stared, unseeing, at the closed door of Eugene’s office. No, something was strange about that girl. Myri couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that Varia didn’t trust her and that she was being secretive about something important. Myri hoped Varia would reveal her secrets to Eugene, but even if she did, she knew that Eugene wouldn’t disclose them. The best Myri could hope for was that Eugene would, at least, be able to ease her mind about Varia’s character.
The door opened, and Varia stepped out. Myri arose to greet her. When the girl spotted Myri, she curtsied quickly and said, “Thank you, my Sa . . . Sister Vahro. Please excuse me.” Myri nodded once, and Varia hurried out of the sitting room and ran down the stairs, her scraggly long brown hair fluttering.
Varia was already gone by the time Myri realized that Eugene hadn’t emerged through the door behind her. Curious, Myri stepped into the office and saw Eugene sitting with his elbows on the desk and fingers making a triangle at his lips. His eyes had a faraway look in them. “That girl troubles you too, doesn’t she?” Myri said.
Eugene’s eyes snapped back into their usual direct gaze, and he folded his hands on the desk. “Why does she trouble you, Myri?”
Myri hadn’t expected this response and was taken aback. “She reminds me of Lieutenant Laddan. She doesn’t trust me, and she’s holding something back.”
Eugene motioned toward a chair, and Myri sat down. When he spoke, it was with care. “Unlike Lieutenant Laddan, Sister Day is completely trustworthy. You can let her get close to you, and she will never betray you—no more than David will. She can’t, however, share her secrets with you or anyone, for that matter. She has very good reasons for being so careful, so as long as you don’t press her too hard, she may warm to you—in time.”
Myri frowned. “You speak as if you think I should have some sort of actual relationship with her. Why?”
“Other than that you’re sisters in the gospel of Jesus Christ?”
Myri sat back in her chair, frustrated with herself. “Who would have thought such a small, simple idea would be so difficult for me.”
Eugene smiled. “Would it help if I told you that all of you are having a hard time with this?”
“Maybe. But not necessarily in the case of Varia. Why is it important that I can let her ‘get close’ to me?”
“Because you need her to help you understand how the Light works, and she needs you to teach her how to be a queen.”
Myri wasn’t a queen and never would be, and yet Eugene often used this word to describe her. Myri had believed that she was starting to understand what he meant by the term “queen,” but hearing the word applied to this coarse girl, Myri felt bewildered all over again. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m not sure I do either—completely. What I do know is that Sister Day is a great lady; she just doesn’t know it yet. She has a grand destiny, and I think she has some idea that this is the case but is terrified about it. At the very least, she needs you to teach her how to dress, how to do her hair, how to speak . . . you know, manners. Attitude. Polish.”
Myri thought she was beginning to understand what Eugene wanted but had no idea how to accomplish it. The girl was clean and well-groomed enough for one of her rank and not unpleasant to look at, but she didn’t have a thread of elegance, and impertinence marred her ability to be completely well-mannered. “You want me to make her into a woman that everyone will recognize as a great lady.”
“That’s it. But the most important thing is that Sister Day comes to see herself as a great lady.”
“The girl was trained to be a technician, and she’s a very good one. She’s from the very lowest ranks of my society. I can put her in a custom gown every day and rubies on her neck and diamonds on her fingers and insist people bow and curtsy to her, but she was born and bred to be a servant of servants and will always see herself that way. And our people will always see her that way, and she knows it. What you’re asking is impossible.”
“Is it more impossible that a lowly woman of your nation could become a great lady than that my son, a lowly ‘savage’ could become a consort to a saintess?”
Stung, Myri said, “Your observation makes me ashamed of myself. Do I really have that low of an opinion of the citizens of my own Nation? That they’re too ignorant and unenlightened to ever rise?”
“I don’t know. Do you?” Eugene’s eyebrows lifted. Myri arose. “I guess there’s only one way to find out whether Varia Day will ever be capable of becoming the ‘queen’ you believe she should be.”
Chapter 4: The Planet-Spirit’s Request
As Varia was leaving her apartment the next day, she received a summons to the Palace to communicate again with Saintess Myri. Bishop Pierce had told her to expect a summons, but Varia hadn’t believed it would be so soon. She returned to her apartment, changed from her work shirt and trousers into her best gown, and walked to the Palace, her anxiety growing with every step. At least, however, this wasn’t a church meeting, so Varia wouldn’t have to call Saintess Myri “sister.”
Almost as soon as Varia saw the old red-brick estate home through the trees, she was met by a young, blond-haired shipman named Danz, who quickly escorted her to the saintess’s official aircar. As a third class shipman, he was the same rank Varia would have been had she been permitted to join Star Force. He carried himself in an almost jubilant way, as if he felt honored that he had been chosen to be one of Saintess Myri’s personal guards. Under normal circumstances, no one of such low rank would have been appointed to that position.
Saintess Myri invited Varia to sit in the seat next to her. “Good morning, Varia, or would you prefer Technician Day?”
“You may address me as Varia or Miss Day, which is the name I’ve been using since I arrived on Earth.”
“Very well, Varia. In public non-church settings, I’ll address you as Miss Day.”
“If it pleases you, my Saintess.”
“We’re going to spend some time on the temple grounds today.” The saintess asked Varia how she had slept and other questions of so little consequence that Varia could answer mechanically. She might have been relieved had the interview been even remotely like the one the saintess had given to her the night before. What did the saintess want? The question wouldn’t stop nagging at her, making the trip to the temple seem like an hour rather than only a few minutes.
They flew over the almost-empty Beltway and a swath of tall, narrow trees. The gold spires glinted in the Light as they flew around them and eased into the covered drive in front of the temple. After they landed and the doors opened, Varia didn’t know what to do, so she waited for a cue from the saintess. When Shipman Danz, who had driven the aircar, extended his hand to help Varia out of the vehicle, she felt self-conscious, as if she should have exited on her own without being prompted in this way.
Varia allowed him to take her hand and felt even more awkward when she saw that he watched her intently, as if she appealed to him. He smiled at her, and she smiled back, because he was being kind to her, and she could do nothing else. She thought she should be flattered that Shipman Danz might be interested in getting acquainted, but all she could feel was a sense of futility. If the boy knew how obsessively she adored their Prince, he would recognize her as the fool she was and not be interested at all.
In the meantime, the older guard, Shipman First Class Larynt, assisted Saintess Myri as she stepped onto the sidewalk. She beckoned Varia to join her. “We’re going to take a walk around the temple. There are guards stationed among the trees, but they won’t be too close. They won’t allow anyone to interrupt us.”
Varia didn’t know how to respond, so she didn’t. As always, she felt Earth’s planet-spirit more strongly on the temple grounds than in any other place and had, in fact, gone there many times in an attempt to communicate with her—with no success. Today, however, she discerned something different in the planet-spirit—something significant—a feeling of anticipation, maybe. Was it possible for a planet-spirit to feel an emotion like anticipation? The thought was a strange one, and Varia’s yearning to explore it went a long way toward alleviating her anxiety. Were it not for the fact that she was with Saintess Myri, she would try again to communicate with Crystal. The fact that she couldn’t annoyed her a little.
Saintess Myri surprised Varia by leading her to a dirt trail behind the temple that Varia hadn’t known existed. As if in answer to her question about the trail, Saintess Myri said, “Mr. Pierce told me about this little walk. It’s a pleasant place to go to have a private conversation.”
Saintess Myri’s offhanded remark irritated and embarrassed Varia. She didn’t want to know anything about the saintess’s relationship with Mr. David Pierce!
As they began strolling along the trail, Varia inhaled deeply, enjoying the wild smell of the forest. Saintess Myri lowered her voice to almost a whisper. “With everything that you know about the planet’s turning to crystal under the Light, were you aware that this phenomenon is somehow facilitating telepathic communication?”
Varia stopped abruptly and turned to the saintess with a gasp. “How odd. And wonderful! What does it mean?”
“I don’t know what it means; I was hoping you could tell me.”
“I haven’t experienced this, and I haven’t heard any speculations about the matter at all. Nothing. Whatever is going on, it isn’t generally known.”
“And that’s as it should be for now.” Myri resumed her stroll, and Varia walked with her. “Others in our community are beginning to become aware that the planet is turning to crystal and are studying it, but I haven’t been informed of any telepathic experiences other than my own.”
“Then it’s certain.” Varia wondered whether the saintess had been able to communicate telepathically with Mr. Pierce and was surprised to realize that, perhaps, she wasn’t as opposed to knowing something about this relationship as she had been only moments before.
“Yes. Absolutely. I’m afraid that once this fact becomes general knowledge, the emperor will learn about it.”
“You have nothing to fear from me.”
“Bishop Pierce assured me of that fact himself, and I believed him, which is why I invited you here to begin with.” Saintess Myri sat down on the wood bench and patted the spot next to her.
Feeling a cool breeze, Varia buttoned her sweater. “Why did you bring me here, my Saintess?”
“We’re going to attempt to telepathically communicate with the planet-spirit.”
“No.” Varia shook her head and turned to leave. “No.” This was the second time she had been impertinent to Saintess Myri, and she didn’t feel sorry about it at all.
Saintess Myri grabbed Varia’s hand and pulled hard to keep her from escaping. “Why not, Varia? You must understand that we need information that only the planet-spirit can give.”
Varia faced Saintess Myri. “We? Don’t you mean you?” She knew her tone was disrespectful, but she realized she didn’t care about that either.
“Yes, we. You, me, the leaders in the Light, and, ultimately, the people in the Light. We need to understand how far our telepathic powers can extend, what our capabilities are, how we’re able to communicate with other Light cities, why the planet is turning to crystal.”
“You can communicate with the planet-spirit yourself to learn all that she will teach you. You don’t need me.” Saintess Myri, as a high priestess, was a good candidate to be the planet-spirit’s mortal contact or “terradirector.”
“Actually, that isn’t true.” Saintess Myri’s eyes flickered with frustration. “I’ve already tried to communicate with the planet-spirit, and she doesn’t respond. The fact that she already communicated with you once is a good indication that she might do so again.”
Varia wriggled her hand out of Saintess Myri’s grip. “I’ve tried speaking to her several times since that day, and she doesn’t respond to me either.”
Saintess Myri jumped up and took Varia’s arm before she could run. “You only spoke to her—you didn’t reach out with your thoughts.” She attempted to move Varia back to the bench.
Varia shook her head. She could have wrenched away from Saintess Myri and walked back to Chevy Chase easily enough, but she wasn’t ready to be quite that impertinent. “I can’t do this.”
“You obviously aren’t opposed to communicating with the planet-spirit. And you obviously are opposed to communicating with me. Why?” Saintess Myri looked straight into Varia’s eyes.
Varia lowered her own eyes, feeling her cheeks grow hot. She felt so warm that she wished she hadn’t worn the sweater.
“Please, Varia,” Saintess Myri began, “I believe that you and I need to work together, that both of us—and the community as a whole—will be stronger if we do. Just tell me what’s disturbing you. We’re going to have a difficult time working together if we can’t get past that.” The saintess had every reason to be angry with Varia, but her tone of voice was very calm, very patient.
None of this was supposed to happen this way. Varia had agreed to tell Saintess Myri what she knew about the Light, and she had. Her job was supposed to be over. Then again, her Prince had given her permission to tell Saintess Myri that he had saved Varia’s life if the saintess needed a reason to keep her close. Obviously he had suspected that Varia would have to do more, and she chastised herself for not foreseeing that possibility herself. He would undoubtedly think that “working” with Saintess Myri was more important that Varia’s dislike.
Varia relaxed her muscles and turned to face Saintess Myri again. Would it hurt anything to tell her? She opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t do it.
Saintess Myri’s features were relaxed, the glow in her eyes friendly. “It’s all right, Varia, really. Just tell me.”
Something about her eyes—which were the same color as her Prince’s and those of the angels Zarr and Vahro—gave her courage. “I don’t know how you could reject the Consecrated One for a native. The thought of it makes me hate you.” There. It was out.
Varia waited for a response, holding her breath. Saintess Myri gazed at her thoughtfully for at least a minute. When she finally responded, she spoke with great care. “Would it help if I told you that many others share your opinion?”
“Obviously, my Saintess, and no.”
The corners of Saintess Myri’s mouth rose a little, as if she were amused. “Of course not. You feel it more deeply than the others do, and why not? The Consecrated One did a great kindness to you. It’s natural that you would feel more loyalty to him than to me. Not only that, but he deserves it. Completely.”
“Yes, my Saintess. He does.”
Saintess Myri nodded and smiled. “I think we understand each other well enough.” She motioned to the bench again. “Are you ready to give it a try?”
Varia sighed. “I suppose so, my Saintess.”
“We’ll have to overlap spirits.”
Varia had already resigned herself to that inevitable fact, and she responded to the saintess by opening her mind. They overlapped spirits, and Varia didn’t find the experience as grating or intrusive as she had expected. The essence of the saintess felt like sunshine that was in the process of breaking out of a block of ice. Varia perceived that she was as beautiful on the inside as on the outside, and that she really didn’t mean Varia any harm. She found Varia mystifying, however, which gave Varia comfort. She liked the idea that she could be invisible, even when her essence was laid bare, and that puzzled the saintess even more. One thing, however, was too close to the surface of Varia’s consciousness to be ignored.
It distresses you that we’re supposed to call each other “sister.” Saintess Myri was too far above Varia to feel offended, but she wasn’t accustomed to being the object of such dislike and distress.
I’m sorry, my Saintess.
Would it be easier to call me “Myri”?
The prospect discomfited Varia. I don’t know. Maybe . . . Myri. It felt very strange, but it was easier than “Sister Vahro.”
Good. Next time we’re in a church setting, you may call me “Myri.”
As you wish, my Saintess.
Within a few seconds, they were comfortable enough with each other that Saintess Myri mentally dove into the crystal labyrinth beneath them. Varia allowed herself to be drawn along, delighted by the burgeoning sweetness of Crystal’s presence. Before either Varia or Saintess Myri could communicate in articulated thought, a vision appeared in Varia’s mind.
A member of the Teton Palace staff escorted one of her Prince’s guards into the Hallowed One’s office. The guard stood at attention in front of the Hallowed One’s desk. She activated the telepathic transmissions recorder and brought up an image of Varia herself.
Terror charged through Varia, along with Saintess Myri’s astonishment.
“Have you seen this girl before?” the Hallowed One asked.
The guard frowned as he pondered.
“She’s an eighteen-year-old environmental technician,” the Hallowed One prodded. “Her last assignment was at the Washington, D.C. Spaceport, and she’s believed to be dead.”
The guard nodded. “Yes, Hallowed One, I do believe I’ve seen her before, but I don’t believe she’s dead.”
The Hallowed One moved forward in her seat. Saintess Myri understood that her sister was using every bit of poise she possessed to appear calm and wondered why it mattered. “When did you see her?”
“Before the invasion, the Consecrated One made one final inspection of the Washington, D.C. Spaceport before traveling to the fleet. This girl was there with the other technicians. The Consecrated One saw that she was a civilian and asked why she hadn’t evacuated to Teton Colony. When she told him that she wanted to stay, the Consecrated One asked why she wasn’t in Star Force. She told him that she was an orphan, and he commanded her to leave the spaceport and save herself. She did.”
“Did she say where she was going?”
“No, Hallowed One.”
“Show me what happened.”
“As you wish, Hallowed One.”
After the guard telepathically transmitted his memory of the incident to the Hallowed One via the telepathic transmissions recorder, she dismissed him. Her assistant made appointments with others, and they came, one by one, into the Hallowed One’s office. Varia and Saintess Myri realized during the first interview that these citizens had defected from the Washington, D.C. Light community after their new church had announced its policy regarding telepathy and the citizens of the Nation.
The Hallowed One asked every one of them if they recognized Varia, and all but two did not. Those who recognized her knew nothing about her. That much, at least, relieved Varia. Her desire to remain invisible had worked to her advantage in this case.
The vision faded, and Saintess Myri asked, Why in the galaxy is my sister looking for Varia?
Because she is the Essential One, the planet-spirit answered.
We don’t understand what that means, Saintess Myri replied, bewildered.
She is essential. There is no other way to describe her.
The planet-spirit had said something similar the first time Varia had spoken with her, and for the moment, Varia’s curiosity overcame her terror. Can you not tell us what I’m going to do that makes me the Essential One?
It is your choice to decide what to do.
But I should know so that I do the right thing. I don’t want to make a terrible mistake.
You are essential, Varia Day. As long as you act with that in mind, you will not make a mistake that will destroy your mission.
This expression of confidence from the planet-spirit gave Varia some comfort, but it was too enigmatic to give Saintess Myri any enlightenment at all. Did my sister tell my brother-in-law that she was looking for Varia and why? Can you show us those memories also?
Arulezz and Jesalya Zarr did not communicate about these matters by voice or transmitted thoughts. I could discern no more about Jesalya Zarr’s search than what I have given to you.
How is it that you can show us this memory at all? Varia asked. When our people first came to Earth, you didn’t show us any memories—no habitable planet does.
I don’t know what being “habitable” has to do with showing memories. I have never shown my memories to mortals or in any other way interfered with human affairs unless I was directed to do so by the Creator or His agents. He requires that human beings have dominion over my physical body, and they could not do so if I disobeyed the laws I have been given.
Excitement electrified Varia. These few thoughts from the planet-spirit had taught her things that even the Imperial terradirector had not known! When you use the term “human being,” do you mean all humans? Or do the human beings who are native to this planet have greater dominion over you than people of my Nation?
Saintess Myri was surprised that Varia had thought to ask such a question and was impressed—and fascinated.
“Human being” means child of the Eternal Father and subject to His Son, the Creator. There is no human being now living on this planet who does not meet that description. The archangel of this planet directs all of the other angels, including those who preside over your nation.
Varia then communicated, Which means that, theoretically, natives of this planet have greater dominion but that you are subject to the dominion of citizens of my Nation as well, both good and evil.
That is correct, the planet-spirit confirmed.
And dangerous, Saintess Myri communicated. My brother-in-law, the emperor, could command a terraforming team to do all kinds of despicable things to you and our communities in the Light.
Zion has what Arulezz Zarr does not—prophets of God with the sealing power—and Varia Day—the human being I choose to be my mortal contact.
The planet-spirit’s statement astonished Varia. You want me to be the terradirector? Could it be true?
I told you before, Varia Day, that I trust you. I do choose you to be my “terradirector.”
You give me great honor, but certainly there is someone else better qualified. Saintess Myri is an expert in telepathy and would be a better terradirector than I would be.
Myri Vahro has a different mission. I choose you.
Varia felt frantic. But I haven’t been educated to fill this role!
You know much more than you think you do. You studied the matter-organizers as they did their work, and you understand the human machinery that facilitates the matter-organizing you have already done.
You’re also the only person I’m aware of who recognized the true nature of the Light, Saintess Myri observed.
I will teach you about my systems, Varia Day, and Myri Vahro will teach you the necessary telepathic skills.
Absolutely! Saintess Myri agreed.
Varia would learn the life sciences from the planet-spirit herself? Had there ever been a terradirector in the history of her Nation who had received this kind of unique and magnificent education? Maybe she could do this job. Under the circumstances, how can I refuse? Varia didn’t want to refuse, and she felt such a unity with the planet-spirit at that moment that she felt empowered to be the terradirector, despite the obvious obstacles.
Then you agree?
Yes, I agree.
Is this new role what makes Varia “the Essential One”? Saintess Myri asked.
It is only part of what makes Varia Day the Essential One, a part that should not be made public. It would be better if Arulezz and Jesalya Zarr don’t learn that she is my mortal contact for a long, long time.
Is that why you showed us my sister’s interest in Varia?
I revealed Jesalya Zarr’s search for Varia Day because I thought you should know. I have permission to reveal many such things to the people of your nation who come into the Light.
The planet-spirit began to withdraw, and Varia stopped her with a plea: Wait! Do you have permission to tell us how the Light cities are able to send radio transmissions?
Yes. The signals are traveling through my new network of crystal. The planet-spirit withdrew, leaving Varia to bask in a feeling of wonder.
Saintess Myri didn’t immediately dissolve her telepathic connection with Varia. We won’t ever speak of this aloud or transmit a thought with any shred of the information we have just learned. After the recent exodus of many of our people from the Light, we can’t take the chance that the emperor will discover this new information.
Varia agreed. I should build a terraforming synthesizer. A terraforming synthesizer combined the synthesizing technology with an Awareness monitor and telepathic transmissions recorder and was one of the most powerful and complex pieces of equipment the Nation used. A planet system acted as a crucible, and as long as terraformers, through the planet-spirit’s Awareness, had control of the sub-system they were manipulating, they could keep control of the nanobots, which, under most other circumstances, required a force field to restrain them. It would help me map the crystal network, presuming Crystal is able to give me a minute view of it. It would also help me maintain it. It wouldn’t take much seismic activity to damage it.
With that offhanded comment, both women simultaneously understood what at least one of the purposes of Varia’s role as terradirector of the Light would be, how critical it was, and that Saintess Myri should never be told any more about it than she already knew—that the cell bond the emperor had on her mind made her too vulnerable.
Saintess Myri’s eyes flew wide with horror. How do you know that the emperor has a cell bond on my mind? No one knows that!
Varia suddenly felt sick and tried to withdraw, but the saintess wouldn’t allow it. Varia wasn’t sure whether her spirit was being burned by the sunshine or the ice, but whichever it was, Varia couldn’t repress the memory of the vision she had seen of her Prince and Saintess Myri communicating in the basement of David Pierce’s home and her declaration, Not long after your brother gave me the mission to marry David Pierce, he put a cell bond on me.
Her Prince, of course, had not believed it. A cell bond? On a high priestess? What makes you think that? What followed was a vision of what the saintess had experienced as given to her Prince.
Saintess Myri’s feeling of being violated grew with every image until she could no longer stand it. She jerked her spirit away from Varia’s, dropping the telepathic connection.
Varia closed her eyes and said under her breath, “I’m sorry, my Saintess.”
“You said that you had never communicated telepathically with the planet-spirit before today,” the saintess whispered, her tone heavy with accusation.
Varia was relieved, in a way, that Saintess Myri did not realize the contradiction in what she had said and did not understand the true significance of the vision. “These visions came in my dreams,” Varia whispered. “I didn’t understand what was happening or why. Every time I think I’ve figured it out, I realize that I still don’t know why.” Given that Crystal had not been able to give them more than the voices and transmitted thoughts of the Divine One and the Hallowed One, she could not have given Varia the detailed vision of Saintess Myri since so much of it had documented her thoughts and visions.
“So this is why you didn’t want to communicate telepathically with me.”
“I really am sorry, my Saintess.” Varia opened her eyes and dared to look at the saintess again; the muscles in her face were tight, her skin pale. “Please forgive me and be aware that I haven’t told anyone about these dreams other than Bishop Pierce. You can trust me with your secrets.”
Saintess Myri turned her head to gaze at Varia. She smiled, just a little. “I know. I also believe that you’ll have many secrets to keep, Varia, and we might as well start now. Don’t ever tell me anything specific about what you learn from the planet-spirit in the future, and if you need to pass information to key people, do it through Bishop Pierce. He knows everyone—or will—and you can trust him.”
“Yes, my Saintess.”
“And we do need equipment capable of terraforming tasks, but building it can’t be your role, at least not yet, and certainly not openly. The Vice President is in the process of reorganizing his nation’s governmental agencies and has already invited many life scientists to Washington to fill needed positions and study the Light. Many came to Washington with me.”
“Do you think he would give up some of them to be on our terraforming team?”
“I think that, at the very least, we’ll be able to work together on mutually beneficial projects.”
The thought of it excited Varia. “My guess is that the native scientists will be thrilled with the idea of terraforming. They’ll be able to influence the planet’s functions rather than just study them. And I’ll be able to learn from them, too.”
“I’m going to need to keep you near me, and the best way to do that will be to make you my assistant. For now.”
Varia shouldn’t have been surprised by this turn of events, but she was. “I have no idea how to fill that position.”
“I know. I’ll be leaving on Monday for a month-long tour of Europe and Africa to bring our people here. Before I leave, my seamstress will fit you with a new wardrobe, and while I’m gone, Madame Fennyal will begin teaching you how to be my assistant.”
“As you wish, my Saintess. Thank you.” Varia automatically inclined her head.
Varia knew that she should feel as honored that Saintess Myri would raise her to the position of personal assistant as Shipman Danz did to be raised to the position of personal guard, and she did, in a way. On the other hand, though, she knew that she preferred wearing trousers and a T-shirt instead of a dress and that she would like building a sophisticated terraforming synthesizer. She didn’t know whether she would like wearing fancy gowns all the time and running errands for the saintess.
The saintess arose and said in a normal voice, “Shall we finish our walk now?
Chapter 5: The Emperor’s Demand
Myri couldn’t suppress a feeling of dread when her aircar and its escort lifted off from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador to return to Washington, D.C. at the end of her grueling trip to Europe and Africa. She hadn’t communicated with Arulezz since the end of her last tour—the one that had brought her, David, his family, and more than a hundred of her people into Washington, D.C.—and knew that he would be suspicious if she didn’t contact him, especially given David’s final thoughts to him as they landed in Washington: You seem to be under the delusion that I will, at some point in time, work for you. You might as well give up that dream now. The only way Myri and I will leave the Light is if you send an army large enough to take us by force.
As Myri recalled the incident, she inwardly cringed. She believed that David had responded correctly to Arulezz’s demand to communicate with him, but the challenge had made Myri’s position with Arulezz more unstable than it already was. She watched the unruly stirrings of the Atlantic Ocean under the aircar as it glided along, mentally formulating all of the possible conversations she could anticipate having with Arulezz.
“We are thirty minutes away from Washington, my Saintess,” her driver said.
“Thank you, Shipman Larynt.” Myri removed the compact from her handbag and opened it, exposing the arelada behind the mirrors to her thought transmissions. Good afternoon, Lezz. I hope that Teton Colony has experienced a thaw and that you’re enjoying some beautiful spring weather.
Arulezz responded immediately: The snow hasn’t melted completely yet, but we’re seeing signs of the new season. How many did you pick up in Europe and Africa?
Myri had considered lying about the number, but didn’t dare. She had no idea if Lieutenant Laddan, Shipman Neemon, or any other defectors from the Light who may have returned as spies would tell Arulezz the true number. Sixty-six. Then again, how could anyone defect from the Light the way they had and be able to return to it for any length of time and not be tormented by the very voices and visions that had motivated the original inhabitants of the communities to flee in droves?
Very good, Myri. She expected him to want the names, and he did. She gave them to him and hated herself for it, her hand trembling as she reapplied her makeup. She didn’t tell him about the twenty-seven native life-scientists she had brought to eventually be on Varia Day’s team of terraformers. To Myri’s surprise and amazement, the planet-spirit had given her the names and images of people to invite to Washington, D.C. for this purpose as she had landed in the various cities she had visited.
After that, he wanted any information David had gleaned from his military contacts in Washington. This was both easier and more difficult information to give. I have nothing. No one has told him anything useful.
I’m beginning to doubt that you have control of your savage. Arulezz’s tone of thought was pleasant, almost amused.
His attempt at irony didn’t amuse Myri. David was out of line when he challenged you, but he isn’t out of control. He was angry and afraid when he learned that my former bodyguard so easily broke into my aircar in Chicago and switched out my compact.
His suggestion that I send an army into the Light for the two of you is an interesting possibility. Be honest with me, Myri. Do you think it will come to that?
In all of her deliberations, Myri had not anticipated this particular question. She struggled for a prompt, correct response. I don’t know. He’s very proud, and maintaining honor among his own people is important to him. In the end, he may actually prefer it that way. I asked you for fifteen months, and I have a year left. Please just let me finish it out before you start thinking about that.
Then I’d better get something useful from him. Arulezz had discarded his teasing tone for a grim one.
Really, Lezz, we haven’t been in Washington that long. Perhaps David’s former colleagues would trust him more were he not betrothed to a Zarrist noblewoman.
Make an effort to meet those colleagues yourself. They’ll be more likely to trust you if they know you.
That’s a good idea but impractical, especially while I’m taking tours of the planet to pick up compatriots.
This is a very simple equation, Myri. He’s either going to bring Nationalists to me, or he’s going to fight them. If he refuses to do either, I’m going to mind-strip him, and then I’m going to kill him. And then I will choose another savage for you who will follow my commands. Decide now what you want.
Myri almost couldn’t answer, and when she did, she knew that her tone of thought was hysterical. Please don’t kill him, Lezz. Please! You have no idea what he means to me!
I intend to find out just how much he means to you next time we communicate.
Myri’s hand shook so badly that she lowered it into her lap, the compact still open. I’ll give you the information you need.
There’s one more thing. I understand that you have a young technician in your community named Varia Day. I need her in Teton Colony as soon as you can make the arrangements to send her.
Myri had half-expected this request and used the only tool she possessed to protect both herself and Varia: How do you expect me to do that without raising suspicion among our people in Washington? I can’t just hand a citizen over to you and expect them to continue trusting me.
Myri’s concern amused Arulezz. This girl is practically invisible. If she disappears, no one will know. Even if someone realizes she’s gone, he or she won’t suspect that you’re behind her disappearance or care.
Arulezz’s condescending observation was true in a terrible sort of way—or had been, at least, before Myri had made Varia an assistant—and Myri couldn’t help but be alarmed. She had believed that the threat of being taken to Teton Colony by force was at least ten months away. This was an immediate demand that didn’t have an easy solution. How could Myri give Varia up? How could she not? What was she supposed to do? What do you want with this girl?
She’s the only surviving member of my father’s planetary repair team that I’m aware of. I need her to be my new terradirector.
So that was it, and that was bad! But your father certainly didn’t have everyone in the Nation trained to be a terraformer on his team. Certainly there are others who are better qualified than a mere technician would be.
The terraformers my father didn’t send to Eden were on ships during the invasion, manipulating natural space phenomena to assist the fleet, or they were in Tryamazz, keeping the planet-spirit from being influenced by Nexyun and Jaxzeran’s own terraformers. They’ve never worked on the flagships.
Which meant they really were all dead, just as Varia had assumed. But train a technician to be the terradirector? Wouldn’t a geologist be better? Or an astrophysicist? Or a botanist?
Not necessarily. Varia Day is already trained to understand the technology of terraforming, and my father wouldn’t have had her on his team at all were she not one of the most competent technicians her age in the Nation. Her specialized skills put her on the cusp of the professional class as it is. It should be easy enough to give her an education in telepathy and the life sciences.
His thoughts so completely mirrored those of the planet-spirit that they disconcerted Myri even more than she already was, almost flustering her. I’ll do the best I can. Please give my love to Mother and Jesalya. Myri closed the compact, ending the communication.
Myri’s mind grasped for a way out of this new dilemma as the aircar descended into the Light and soared into Chevy Chase. She felt ashamed to realize that had she and Varia not communicated with the planet-spirit and learned about Varia’s critical role in the community, she might have given the girl to Arulezz without much thought. How could she avoid it now and not shout to Arulezz that she was a traitor?
As Myri approached the Palace, her thoughts settled somewhat around the realization that she was still ignorant about a great many things. Varia had concealed even more from Myri than she had believed, and Eugene Pierce knew it. The girl had confided to Eugene what she had kept from Myri, which made him a good person to go to for advice, and that’s exactly what she decided to do.
“Shipman Larynt, please land at the Pierce home.” Myri zipped her handbag and prepared to exit the aircar.
“As you wish, my Saintess.”
The aircar landed, and Myri instructed her chaperone to remain in the aircar if she wished or to walk to the Palace. As long as Betty Pierce was at home with her husband, Myri wouldn’t need another chaperone.
Larynt opened the door for Myri. She stepped out and stood carefully; her legs felt like pudding. Larynt escorted her up the flagstone walk and stairs to the front entrance of Eugene and Betty Pierce’s house, which was near hers. Betty met them at the door, puzzled. “David isn’t here. He’s waiting for you at the Palace.”
“I’m not here to see David. I need to speak with your husband.” She forced her voice to remain calm. Her desire to see David’s father before David himself would appear strange enough to Shipman Larynt. She didn’t want her feelings of urgency to show and make him suspicious.
Betty invited Myri into the house, and Myri dismissed Larynt. As soon as Myri entered the tiny white foyer, she smelled beans simmering with onions and garlic and wondered what David’s parents would be eating for dinner—burritos, tostadas, chili?—and whether she would be able to get away to dine with them. Her stomach growled.
Eugene arose from a chair in the sitting room on the left. “How can I help you, Myri?”
Myri adjusted her gaze to rest on him. “I’m sorry to intrude on you in this way, but may I speak with you privately?”
“Sure.” Eugene motioned to the sunroom, which he used as an office.
Once Eugene closed the pocket door behind them, Myri said, “I have a dilemma of some urgency, and I need your advice.” She slid out of her sweater and laid it on the brown leather chair near the French doors with her handbag. After being in northern climates for so many days, traveling between Europe and North America, the warmth of the sunroom felt good.
“I take it you’ve communicated with the emperor.”
Myri nodded, relieved that she and David had told him about the compact Shipman Neemon had planted in her aircar in Chicago. At least she didn’t have to explain that. “He wants me to send Varia Day to him. He claims that he wants her to be his ‘terradirector.’”
“I think I understand. You’re afraid that if you don’t do it, the emperor will think you’re disloyal.” He motioned to a chair. “Please sit down, Myri.”
“Thank you, but I couldn’t possibly sit right now. I’ve been in the aircar all day.” Myri waved Eugene into his own chair, too agitated to do anything but pace in front of the multipaned windows. “I know the emperor will think I’m disloyal, but I can’t send Varia. Too many people know that she’s training to be my assistant, and they’ll think it odd if she disappears. Then they won’t trust me. And the girl is happy here in the Light and has a very important role that Arulezz can’t know about. She wouldn’t want to go. And she’s too unsophisticated to withstand the machinations of Arulezz and my sister.”
He sat down in the rolling chair with his back to the little dark brown desk. “I take it you talked to the emperor using thought transmissions?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Then you have nothing to worry about. You can let this one go.”
Eugene’s assurance about the matter brought a new possibility into Myri’s mind, and she would have laughed at herself for not thinking about it before, but she wasn’t as certain as Eugene was to be too amused. “You must believe that Prince Jahnzel is still monitoring my transmissions and that he’ll rescue me from this dilemma.”
“Yes, I believe that Prince Jahnzel is still monitoring telepathic transmissions from the planet and that he’ll come to the Palace before the end of the day.”
Myri stretched her arms above her head. “I wish I could be as sure of that as you are. Prince Jahnzel and I didn’t part on good terms.”
“That doesn’t matter. Please trust me on this. Sister Day is in no danger from the emperor at the moment, and he won’t think you’re disloyal.”
“All right, then I’ll wait and do nothing. Although, even if Prince Jahnzel comes, I’m not sure what he could do to help Varia and me out of this mess.”
“Tell Sister Day about the emperor’s demand—and my advice—and see what she thinks. And do it as soon as you can. She needs to know what’s at stake.”
“I hadn’t wanted to speak to her about this until I decided what to do, but I suppose that if I follow your advice, the decision has been made.” Varia didn’t know that Myri had been in contact with the emperor—or at least Myri didn’t think she knew—and Myri didn’t want to tell her.
Eugene smiled and leaned back in his chair with a roll and a squeak. “Please relax. This really isn’t a big deal.”
Myri meant to leave, but changed her mind. “There is one other thing—or maybe it’s more than one thing.” She decided to sit after all in the other brown leather chair. “Before I left, Varia and I were able to communicate with the planet-spirit, and she told us that she had chosen Varia to be her ‘mortal contact,’ or, in other words, her terradirector.”
Myri described the experience to Eugene as well as she could, feeling guilty. “Our spirits were still overlapped, and when Varia realized that I knew that she knew about the cell bond, she tried to withdraw, and I wouldn’t let her. That was wrong, and I’ve been feeling terrible about it ever since it happened.”
“Did you learn anything from the experience?”
Myri gazed at the hardwood floor. “Yes, I suppose I did.”
“I really didn’t mean to do what I did—it was instinctive. Something I assumed I had the right to do by virtue of my status as a noblewoman and high priestess.”
“And that bothers you?”
Myri still couldn’t look at him. “Perhaps it wouldn’t have while I was still living in the empire, but now, here in the Light, it feels completely wrong. I wouldn’t have treated my own sister that way, and it certainly goes against the new rule for telepathy the prophet gave to us that says no one should force another to communicate telepathically.”
“What else did you learn?”
“That I don’t know my own telepathic strength—or the telepathic weakness of someone like Varia.”
“How did Sister Day feel about it?”
“I dropped the connection when I realized what she had seen about me, and she was relieved. She apologized to me. That actually makes me feel worse.”
Myri finally looked up at him. “Because I should have apologized to her.”
His eyes were kind, not accusatory. “Even though she knew things about you that you thought were private?”
“She didn’t choose to know those things. She said that she learned them in a dream.”
“Did she tell you about her dream?”
“No, and I didn’t ask. You were right, however, when you told me that I can trust her. She may be the most private person I’ve ever met. She has multitudes of secrets closed up inside of her.”
“Does that bother you?”
“Not as much as it did. The planet-spirit has put her in a unique position, and she needs to be able to keep secrets—especially from me. That cell bond does make me vulnerable, and I wish I didn’t know everything I do about the Light. As governor of my people here, however, I do need to know some things, so I understand why the planet-spirit communicated with the two of us together.”
“How do you intend to make things right with Sister Day?”
“I’ll apologize to her when I get back to the Palace. And I’ll give her training in telepathy. According to the mandate from the prophet, everyone in the community needs this training, which is something I’ve neglected. Perhaps the thought of it is just too overwhelming.”
Eugene slapped his thighs. “That sounds like a good plan.”
The gesture reminded Myri so much of David that she smiled as she arose and retrieved her handbag from the other chair. “Thank you.” She left the Pierces’ house and sent Shipman Larynt to the Palace with the aircar. Before he left, she instructed him to tell Miss Day to wait for her in her private sitting room on the second floor and to inform David that she had some business to attend to before she could see him.
Myri quickly made a phone call to the Vice President of the United States, Samuel Neal Madison, to inform him of the possibility that Prince Jahnzel would be arriving. The Vice President already knew Jahnzel, and he assured her that if he did come, he would not be detained, but he wanted her to keep him informed about Jahnzel’s intentions and movements.
In her initial meeting with the Vice President upon entering Washington, D.C., Myri had explained her relationship to Jahnzel, the fact that he had visited her in Kansas City, and that he was in the unusual position of being an ally of the Light without actually living in it.
Myri walked to the Palace, needing time to think, followed by Shipman Danz. She entered the Palace from a rear door into the mudroom off the kitchen and hurried up the utility stairs to her private sitting room. Since her staff was waiting for her in the grand foyer, she didn’t encounter anyone other than guards on the grounds and no one on the upper floor.
When she entered her sitting room, she was immediately struck by the beauty of it, as she always was. Teardrop-shaped crystals dangled from the small ceiling light fixture, refracting the Light from the window and casting little rainbows on the walls. Her heart lifted. Varia arose and curtsied.
Myri dropped her handbag onto one of the mauve-upholstered chairs that flanked the fireplace and smiled. “Seamstress Kintz has done a wonderful job. You look absolutely lovely, Varia.” The girl wore an unembellished emerald green gown made of silk that accentuated the creaminess of her fair skin. Her luxuriant dark brown hair fell in waves on her back, the ends neatly trimmed and layered—not ragged as before. Her eyebrows were shaped, and she smelled like orange-scented soap.
Varia blushed just enough to give her cheeks a pleasing color, and she didn’t lower her eyes in embarrassment. She gazed at Myri and smiled. “Thank you, my Saintess.”
“Let me see your hands.” Varia presented her hands for inspection, and Myri saw that they were perfectly manicured and shone with pearly white polish. The stains—and even the calluses—from her former work as a technician were gone. Myri nodded her approval and motioned to the gray sofa. “Please sit down, Varia. We have important things to discuss.” She decided to wait to tell her about the scientists she had brought for her terraforming team. That information would generate too much discussion for the amount of time they had.
Varia did sit down and against a pillow with mauve and white squares, but her dark eyebrows rose slightly in surprise, and she didn’t appear comfortable. Obviously a month hadn’t been enough time to allow her to perfect the deportment skills Madame Fennyal had taught her.
“First of all, I would like to apologize to you for the way I behaved when we communicated with Crystal.” Myri moved the pillow with the shiny gold polka dots out of the way and sat down on the sofa, turning to face Varia. “I shouldn’t have held the telepathic connection when you wanted to withdraw, and I’ve regretted it ever since it happened.”
Varia frowned, as if she were surprised by Myri’s words. “I accept your apology, my Saintess.”
“I still intend to give you personal instruction in telepathy—if you feel you can trust me enough.”
Varia didn’t respond at once. When she finally did, she used great care: “I appreciate your offer, and in many ways I do trust you, but after what happened, I’m not sure I should.”
Myri tried to keep her tone light. “Do you know that many more private things about me, then?”
This time, Varia did lower her eyes. “Yes . . . no . . . it isn’t quite that simple.” She began picking at her beautiful nails.
Myri stopped Varia from continuing in her nervous habit by placing her hands over hers. “It’s all right, Varia. I’ll give you time to think about it.”
“Thank you, my Saintess.”
Myri released Varia’s hands. “I’m afraid that I have something more disturbing than that to tell you. I’m not sure how to do it delicately, so I’ll just say it outright. On my descent into Washington, D.C., I was in communication with the emperor, and he commanded me to send you to him. He indicated that he wants you to be his terradirector.”
As Myri expected, Varia’s eyes flew wide open in panic. “That can’t be true!”
“I’m sorry, but it is true.” Myri told Varia about her conversation with Eugene, which seemed to upset her even more. Her face became very pale, and she trembled. Myri rested her hands on Varia’s again in an attempt to calm her down. Myri could feel her muscles tighten, as if everything in her wanted to jump up and run out of the room, but she struggled against the inclination and didn’t move. She remained so still that she didn’t even seem to be breathing.
Realizing that her show of affection to Varia had increased her anxiety, Myri withdrew her hands and sat back against the pillows on the sofa, giving the girl as much personal space as she could. “I understand that you’re afraid, and that you don’t want to go to Teton Colony. I’m not sure I should have told you about the emperor’s demand at all, but Bishop Pierce said that you should know what’s at stake. I believe—as he does—that the Consecrated One will come and do what he can to rescue us from this difficulty.”
Varia nodded. “He’ll come. There’s no doubt about that. He loves you, my Saintess. He will always come for you.”
Varia’s certainty surprised and unnerved Myri. She wanted to press the girl to learn more about those dreams that had, evidently, taught her so much about Jahnzel and Myri herself, but she didn’t want to completely dismantle her before the arrival of such an important visitor.
“Very well.” Myri arose. “We may not have much time to prepare, which means we need to get started.”
Varia stood up but didn’t appear steady. She gripped the arm of the sofa and then sat down again, her hand moving to her forehead. “I’m sorry, my Saintess. I’m not myself. May I please be excused from the preparations?”
A sub-light craft roared over the Palace. Varia jumped. Myri went to the door. “It sounds as if the Consecrated One is already here. Apparently we won’t have any time to prepare.”
Jahnzel was fast this time, faster than Myri could have ever imagined him to be. He had to have left the Empress of the Stars as soon as the transmission ended and come at high speed. After nine hours in the aircar that day, how Myri envied his ability to travel long distances quickly. Her own limousine was far faster than she needed for local travel and adequate for shuttling between states, but it was horrible for international travel. Several models of aircar traveled faster than hers did and had easily shuttled people quickly between continents before the invasion. She understood that the type of vehicle she used was standard for its original purpose, but why couldn’t there have been a faster one left in D.C. after the invasion? Just one?
Myri was halfway down the hall when she realized that Varia hadn’t followed her. Annoyed, she returned to the sitting room and found the girl still there, leaning over her lap with her head in her hands. “I’m sorry, Varia, but you have to come. You can’t ignore the Consecrated One.”
Varia looked up at Myri. She appeared terrified but resigned. “I know, my Saintess.” She arose and breathed deeply in an attempt to compose herself and wasn’t quite successful. She walked to the door slowly, as if she weren’t quite stable on her feet yet.
Myri waited for Varia in the hall and offered her arm to her; Varia took it. As soon as they began descending the stairs, Myri turned her head to the left slightly and looked for David in the grand foyer below. She spotted him almost immediately and suddenly felt flushed.
He looked fantastic standing there with his parents, his dark hair curling around his ears and on his forehead. Before being attacked by classmates who had been cell-bonded by the late emperor Tohmazz Zarr, his hair had been extremely short—making him appear almost bald. For her sake, he had allowed it to grow longer than he would have otherwise. Even though he wasn’t in uniform, there could be no mistaking his proud military posture. He had been spending hours a day lifting weights, biking, and swimming laps in the heated spa on his property, and he filled out his light gray suit better than he had before she had left him.
Myri’s heart rate increased and she was afraid that Varia might feel her tremble. Varia did move her arm, and Myri was suddenly concerned that the jittery girl would make fools of them both by running down the stairs to get away from her. Myri laid her hand over Varia’s to keep her where she was. When they paused on the landing and turned to face the front entrance of the Palace, Captain Fennyal said in a loud voice, “Saintess Myri Zarr-Vahro and her assistant Miss Varia Day.”
“What do I do, my Saintess?” Varia begged under her breath.
“You’re doing fine, Varia,” Myri soothed. “Don’t curtsy until the Consecrated One is announced.”
“Thank you, my Saintess.”
The members of Myri’s staff adopted positions of deference. All were wearing their finest clothing to show respect to her. Even David’s parents had changed into their Sunday clothes. Myri assumed they had come to the Palace to wait for Jahnzel’s arrival. David watched Myri with exhilaration.
Myri proceeded halfway down the lower flight of stairs before she raised everyone, and said, “I’m happier to be home than I can possibly express. I would dismiss you to go about your business, but the Consecrated One will be here momentarily. Thank you so much for your service and support.”
Myri and Varia had barely stepped onto the polished wood floor, and David had just begun to move away from his parents, when Captain Fennyal announced Jahnzel’s arrival. David bowed with everyone else, but Myri could tell that he was annoyed. Why couldn’t Jahnzel have waited five more minutes? Just five minutes!
Myri released her hold on Varia and curtsied. With her head inclined, Myri didn’t have the line of sight to watch Jahnzel walk from the entrance to her position at the bottom of the stairs, but she could see enough to know that his stride was brisk, that he didn’t have his own guards with him, and that he was wearing his shimmering white dress uniform instead of the working one he usually wore.
Myri thought it odd that he looked more ready to lead a treaty negotiation or attend an official political dinner than to appear spontaneously at the Palace on a work day. Three diamond studs in a vertical row buttoned the standing collar at his throat, diamond cuff links glistened at his wrists, and a small cluster of diamonds held the purple brocade sash in place to the side. His long, light brown hair was in the formal half-down style, held in place by the ornate diamond jewel he wore to display his rank. The only thing missing was the customary arelada pendant hanging on his chest. That would have been confiscated when he landed, if he had brought it at all.
When Jahnzel came close enough, Myri could see that he looked better than he had the last time she had seen him; his angular face was less haggard, as if a burden had been lifted, and his emerald green eyes sparkled, as if he were excited to see her. The thought of his devotion gratified her and made her feel ashamed—for her sake and for his. Jahnzel should not be so attentive to the betrothed of another man!
Myri had scarcely perceived these thoughts when Jahnzel shocked her by stopping in front of Varia, taking her hand, and raising her from her curtsy. The Light from the huge window above the door and those behind her in the stairway illuminated all of the diamonds he wore, particularly the ones in his hair, sending stunning blades of light in all directions. He smiled, leaned toward Varia, and whispered in a voice so low that Myri wouldn’t have heard him had she not been standing right next to Varia, “You’re even more beautiful in person than you are in my dreams, Varia. I hope you’ll do me the honor of speaking with me privately.”
Myri turned her head just in time to see Varia return Jahnzel’s smile. Myri could see that she wasn’t tense anymore. “As you wish, Jahnzel.”
Jahnzel’s eyes grew larger, filling with something Myri wasn’t sure she had ever seen in them before—joy. “Please lead the way.”
Varia’s eyes mirrored the happiness in Jahnzel’s as she led him by the hand into the library. Jahnzel didn’t bother to raise everyone from their positions of humility; he didn’t acknowledge any of them at all. When Jahnzel and Varia were gone, Myri straightened and stood as poised as she could under these extraordinary circumstances, her mind flailing to find an explanation for what had just happened.