Read Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy) Online

Authors: M.K. Wren

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Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy) (5 page)

BOOK: Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy)
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“Karlis and the Lady Adrien?”

She nodded silently, eyes clouded, and he understood now why she was glad he’d come early. She thought it would be easier for him if he heard this news in private.

But there was more pain in her eyes than he felt. She couldn’t seem to believe there was no pain for him in that name. There was nothing: a state beyond indifference. He recognized the ominous political implications in a Selasis-Eliseer match, but he could muster no personal response to it. Yet Erica didn’t understand that; she expected him to still grieve that loss, years old now. Nothing he said convinced her that it was buried with the other old griefs. Except for Rich. He still felt that sometimes.

“Lord Orin works fast,” he commented. “Janeel Shang Selasis is only eight months in her grave.”

“Yes.” Erica was still watching him closely. “I’m sure Karlis will wait the customary year of mourning before he takes another wife, at least for appearance sake.”

“And to avoid further alienating Sato Shang. He seemed inclined to believe the stories about Janeel’s second pregnancy. Well, we’ll have to find out as soon as possible if there’s more than rumor to the Selasis-Eliseer match.”

She nodded, her expression resolutely noncommittal.

“Ben has alerted his agents in both Houses. At least we can be sure of knowing as soon as Lady Adrien does. Dr. Perralt is very close to her.” She sighed, leaning back in her chair. “I’m afraid there
is
more than rumor to this. It’s a logical move for Selasis, and I suppose it looks like a good match from Eliseer’s point of view.”

“Or an inescapable match.” He glanced at his watch, frowning. He’d have to get back to the hangars soon. “Erica, did you have a report on the Directorate meeting today?”

She nodded. “Yes. It was mostly concerned with House politics; nothing new or unexpected, except the Phoenix came up for discussion again.”

He rose and began pacing out a circle. “We seem to be coming up frequently lately. What did the Directors have to say about us today?”

“Oh, the usual diatribes from Selasis about our making the spaceways unsafe. He seems to have forgotten about Amik the Thief and his friends. Anyway, he proposed a special task force to ferret out this menace—that’s us—and a twenty percent Confleet expansion.”

“Yes, he’d like that. It would mean another fat construction contract for Badir Selasis.”

“He could use it. Selasis does have a valid complaint about our raids; they’ve been rather costly for him, along with all those inexplicable mechanical breakdowns.”

Alex smiled at that. “That program does seem to be progressing well. What did the Directors do about his proposals?”

“After a great deal of bickering and complaining about rising taxes, a compromise was reached. They authorized the special task force, but vetoed the Confleet expansion.”

“Good. Well, the task force will present no problems; Ben will have their strat plans for me. We’ll have to lie low for a while, anyway. Maybe I can get M’Kim organized on the MTs for the Corvets during the hiatus, and we have repairs to—” He tensed at the sound of the door chime, and Erica’s quick reaction as she leaned forward to check the vis-screen on her desk revealed her tension.

“Andreas,” she said, touching the doorcon button.

“Finally.” Alex turned as the doorscreens went off, his words of greeting dying on his lips. Andreas had come straight from the infirmary, and his dark eyes were haunted.

“Ben hasn’t arrived yet?” Andreas asked.

Alex shook his head. “Not yet. How are you, Andreas?”

“I doubt I should answer that honestly.” He sagged into a chair. “It’s been a day of shocks, and I had another one a couple of hours ago. I must talk to Ben about—about arrangements.”

Alex frowned. The word didn’t make sense. Erica voiced the question. “Arrangements? What do you mean?”

Andreas took a deep breath. “I mean arrangements for a short trip. It’s . . . Amelia, my sister. I’ve just learned that she’s ill, Erica.” A pause, then, “Dying.”

“Oh, Andreas, I’m sorry.”

He nodded. “It’s a heart attack; she’s in the convent hospital.” Another long pause, then he said flatly, “I’m going to see her. I owe her that much.”

Alex felt a constricting chill, and his tone was unintentionally sharp. “You’re going to see her?”

“Yes, Alex, but perhaps I should explain the situation.” Andreas folded his hands, frowning down at them. “Amelia’s my only living relative. Actually, she was a charter member of the Phoenix, but after the Fall she chose the Sisters of Solace instead. The Order maintains hospitals for those who can’t afford, or are barred for some reason from Conmed hospitals; the Sisters believe in traditional Church sanctuary. They specialize in mental illness, but they accept any kind of illness or injury and ask no questions.” He smiled fleetingly. “Amelia decided she could do more good with the Sisters than the Phoenix. Perhaps she was right.”

“You’ve maintained contact with her?”

“No. We both knew that would be too dangerous, and Amelia Riis was officially a victim of the Purge. Unfortunately, my name was linked with the Phoenix in the beginning; if it were known she was my sister, she’d have suffered for it. But I made her a promise, Alex, that if I died, she’d know, and she’d have some way of letting me know if . . .”

Alex hesitated, realizing Andreas was close to weeping. “How was she to contact you?”

Erica relieved Andreas of the necessity of answering. “She was given a transceiver in the form of a holy medallion, Alex. It’s tuned to a frequency that goes through one of our relay stations for double idents.”

Alex made no comment, but he read in her eyes an understanding of a fact neither of them would voice now: the double ident relay system was under the aegis of Communications; Predis Ussher’s department.

Then he looked at Andreas’s haggard face; all his nearly eighty years were evident now. A few words with his sister before she died was little enough to ask. Andreas had given his life to the Phoenix. How could he be denied this?

“Where is your sister, Andreas? What convent?”

“Holy Carma. It’s in the Coris Mountains near Hallicourt about a thousand kilometers east of Hamidropolis. I suppose Ben will worry about my leaving Fina, but there’s really no danger. The SSB certainly won’t be looking for me in a convent, and it’s quite remote.”

Erica asked, “When are you planning to go?”

“I should go tonight.”


Tonight
? Andreas, please don’t attempt it now. For once, take my advice as a physician.”

He nodded. “I wouldn’t feel right about leaving Fina now, with the Solar Fleet disaster and. . . . Early tomorrow morning. I only hope it—it won’t be too late.”

Erica looked up at Alex as if seeking guidance, but he had none to offer. He gave himself up to aimless pacing, trying to silence the alarms ringing in his mind. Finally, he stopped and faced Andreas.

“I’m going with you to Holy Carma.”

“But why? Alex, you’re as bad as Ben sometimes. Really, there’s no cause for concern.”

“Andreas, you can’t go alone, and there’s no one in Fina or all the worlds I’d trust with your life.”

“Not even Ben?”

Alex laughed. “He’s an exception. He’s also in a vital position in the SSB. We can’t jeopardize that. Anyway, if anything goes wrong, we’ll need him to extricate us. Besides, I’d enjoy the trip. Considering how long I’ve been on Pollux, I’ve seen damned little of it.”

Andreas managed a smile at that, but Erica was on the verge of protesting when the door chime distracted her. She checked the vis-screen.

“It’s Ben.”

Their eyes shifted in unison to the door as Ben Venturi came in, sparing them a brief, abstracted smile.

“Sorry I’m late; couldn’t get loose any sooner. How are you, Andreas?”

“I’m all right. And you?”

Ben laughed. “My ulcers are on the rampage again, but that isn’t surprising. Alex, you have everything organized in the hangars?”

“Not entirely, but I called a break for supper.” He paused, then turned to Andreas. “Well, now that we’re all here, I understand you have something to tell us.”

Andreas looked up, and it seemed to take a moment for him to realign his thoughts.

“I’ve been so distracted, I nearly forgot about it. It’s the LR-MT. I’ve been working on a new approach. A modification of an old one, actually, but a vital modification. I had a readout on the final equations today.”

Alex folded his arms, trying to read behind the veneer of practiced objectivity. And there
was
hope there. Andreas might try to rein it, as he did, but it was there.

“A vital modification? What does that mean?”

“Alex, we have our breakthrough.”

Alex felt the chill of pallor in his cheeks.
Breakthrough
. For Andreas to use that word—

“Please, Andreas, put that in terms I can deal with.”

“I don’t know exactly what that means. All I can tell you is that I’m sure of the general principles. The problem now will be to translate the equations into mechanisms; designing and setting up equipment for experimentation.”

Alex closed his eyes and the words slipped out, “Thank the God. We’re running out of time.”

Andreas frowned at that. “We’re a long way from working models capable of practical loads. It’ll be two to four years before we can offer it to the Concord.”

Alex’s jaw tightened, the tension taking on a sharper edge now. “Is there any way you can speed that timetable?”

“I can’t say. I don’t know what problems we’ll encounter. Alex, we’ve waited over fifty years for this—we can wait a few more.”

“I’m not so sure of that. There are too many crisis factors in existence in the Concord to consider, and still others within the Phoenix. You’re aware of them.”

Andreas sighed. “Yes.”

There was a short silence. It was Ben who broke it.

“Andreas, you haven’t said anything about this breakthrough to anyone except Dr. Lyden and Dr. Bruce?”

“Of course not.” He frowned with a hint of annoyance. “I’ve been very careful to observe your security procedures, Ben, and I’ve run all the computer sequences myself with an automatic erase. There’s no record of the full equations.”

Ben nodded, his anxiety unalleviated. Andreas honestly believed he observed the security procedures to the letter, but he was all too prone to carelessness in periods of intense concentration.

“All right, but remember, we’re in trouble if Predis finds out about this. He’s been biding his time all these years, but he’ll
have
to make his move once he knows we have the LR-MT.”

“Yes, I . . . realize that, Ben.”

Alex knew the cost of that admission; he felt the same resigned weariness. But Andreas wasn’t capable of Alex’s consuming contempt for the man who would jeopardize the Phoenix to make himself a Lord. Nor was Andreas capable of imagining how far Ussher might go to effect his dreams of glory.

Alex frowned at his watch. “Andreas, I have to get back to the hangars. You can tell Ben about our excursion to Holy Carma.”

Ben came alert at that. “Your what?”

“Andreas will explain it. Ben, will you be in your Leda apartment tonight? I’d like to use your MT terminal.”

“Don’t tell me you’re off on one of your sociological research trips tonight?”

“Yes. It’s too important to neglect.”
Especially now
. And now he understood that qualification.

“I’ll switch off the alarms. You can use it even if I’m not there.”

“Thanks. Erica, is the corridor clear?”

She checked her screen. “Yes.”

He paused at the door. “Andreas, the Shepherds say every gift has its price. We’ve been given a gift of new hope. We’ll have to accept the cost.”

4
.

A warm rain rattled at the roof. The hour was late, past the compound curfew, and the chapel was nearly empty. At a small altar along the side wall, a hooded, bent old woman knelt, arms crossed, work-worn hands resting on her shoulders, her face illuminated by the votive candles.

Alex studied her from the shadows at the back of the chapel. A beautiful face, open and guileless as a child’s, yet seared with a lifetime of births and deaths. Her lips moved in prayer, her curiously innocent eyes gazed out of sunken sockets at the image of the saint above the altar.

Saint Thea, regarded as a midwife of sorts; she assisted the passage of the faithful from this world into the next.

He always felt a certain time/space disorientation in these chapels, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable sensation. It was due in part to their uniformity. This chapel could be anywhere in the Two Systems. Even in Montril, another remote experience from that other world. They were all built on the same simple design: rectangular spaces walled and floored in plasment with barrel-vaulted ceilings, and tall, narrow windows serving more to let light out of the chapels than into them. Even in the style of the ikons decorating the walls there was a high degree of consistency.

The only light now was that of candles, amber-warm, casting rich brown shadows, a light that gave flickering life to the ikons over the side altars and lent an equivocal depth to the grim, omniscient image of the Mezion above the main altar. There the only other worshiper in the chapel knelt; Esaph, Elder Shepherd of Eliseer’s Leda smelter Compound B.

Alex’s gaze moved back to the old woman. On the sleeve of her cape was the blue-and-silver winged-horse crest of Eliseer. He closed his eyes.

He was standing at the rear of the chapel, a shadow among shadows, the hood of his cloak drawn up. He listened in the darkness behind his eyes to the thrum of the rain. Autumn. A stir of remembrances that never became recognizable images; autumn rains on another world where seasons had more meaning. He was waiting for the old woman to leave, but he wasn’t impatient. This place stilled impatience. It was a place outside time, or a little pocket of time dragging behind, collecting the residue of centuries.

He’d come here so exhausted walking was an effort, come with his mind teeming with hectic memories. The hours in the hangars and the comcenter, the decisions and demands, the press and pressure of people, the whines and cracks of machinery shrieking and hammering against the stone-bound vaults. And the oppressive, whispering quiet of the infirmary, the haunted, haunting eyes of survivors facing a vacuum in their lives.

BOOK: Shadow of the Swan (Book Two of the Phoenix Legacy)
3.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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