The Final Key: Part Two of Triad

BOOK: The Final Key: Part Two of Triad
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Catherine Asaro

The

Final

Key

Part Two of Triad

A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK NEW YORK

NOTE: If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

THE FINAL KEY: PART TWO OF TRIAD

Copyright Š 2005 by Catherine Asaro

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.

A Tor Book

Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC 175 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10010

www.tor.com

TorŽ is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

ISBN-13: 978-0-765-35209-5 ISBN-10:0-765-35209-5

First Edition: December 2005

First Mass Market Edition: December 2006

Printed in the United States of America

0987654321

To Louis, James, and Gina, with love

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the following readers for their much appreciated input. Their comments have made this a better book. Any mistakes that remain are mine alone.

To Jeri Smith-Ready and Aly Parsons for their excellent reading and comments on the full manuscript; to Aly's Writing Group for insightful critiques of scenes: Aly Parsons, Simcha Kuritzky, Connie Warner, Al Carroll, J. G. Hucken-p6hler, John Hemry, Ben Rosenbaum, and Bud Sparhawk.

A special thanks to my editors, Jim Minz and David Hartwell, for their support and suggestions; to my publisher, Tom Doherty; to Denis Wong for all his help; to art director Irene Gallo, publicist Jodi Rosoff, copyeditor Ed Chapman, production team Priscilla Flores, Jim Kapp, Meryl Gross, Milenda Lee, and Nathan Weaver; and to all the other good people at Tor and St. Martin's Press who did such a fine job making this book possible; to my excellent agent, Eleanor Wood, of Spectrum Literary Agency; and to Binnie Braun-stein for her enthusiasm and hard work on my behalf.

A heartfelt thanks to the shining lights in my life, my husband, John Cannizzo, and my daughter, Cathy, for their love and support.

The

Final

Key

Prologue

Make it stop, Hoshpa." Tears ran down the small boy's face, and his eyes were swollen from crying. "It will get better." Eldrin murmured the words, agonized by the anguish of his six-year-old son, Taquinil. "It will get better." He sat on the floor cradling the boy in his arms, rocking him back and forth. He extended his telepathic reach as a shield against the pain that the boy couldn't block with his extraordinarily sensitive mind.

Gradually his mental shields muffled TaquiniPs distress. The boy's sobs eased and his body relaxed. After several moments, Eldrin realized Taquinil had fallen asleep in his arms, his head against his father's shoulder. Eldrin breathed with relief. They had made it through another rough spell. He stood up, holding his son, and carried the boy to his room. After Eldrin tucked him in, he sat watching Taquinil sleep. Black hair was tousled about his son's face. Eldrin brushed back the disheveled bangs, and wished he could as easily brush away the boy's night terrors.

Footsteps sounded in the living room of the royal apartments. Startled, Eldrin straightened up. He glanced one last time to make sure Taquinil was peaceful. Then he went out to the hallway. Low voices were coming from the living room at the end of the hall.

Eldrin found Dehya, his wife, sitting on the sofa with one of her doctors. She had slouched down with her head thrown back, her eyes closed, and her long hair disarrayed like black silk. The doctor, Alaj Rajindia, was a dark-haired nobleman. The House of Rajindia provided the military with the neurological specialists who treated psions. Alaj was an expert in the medical treatment of telops, the tele-

pathic operators who used the vast mesh of information that stretched across the Skolian Imperialate, tying the interstellar civilization together into a coherent whole. The existence of that mesh depended on the unique abilities of telops, and Dehya was the ultimate telop, the most versatile operator alive.

Alaj was checking her with a scanner. Eldrin hesitated, unsure if he should interrupt. Dehya had been in the webs for two days straight, working, and also chasing down clues about Vitarex Raziquon, the sadistic monster who kept appearing in Eldrin's nightmares. Eldrin hated that her concern about his dreams added to her exhaustion. In his nightmares, Raziquon was torturing him, blinding him, crippling him, leaving him in unbearable pain, except he had to bear it. But it wasn't him; he always awoke in the royal suite here on the Orbiter space station where he lived with his family.

Alaj was speaking to Dehya. "I'm going to prescribe it anyway. Take it. Exactly the dose I give. No more."

She sat up wearily. "I won't take it."

The doctor scowled at her. "You've tied your mind into knots. If you keep this up, you will injure your brain."

"Neural relaxants are dangerous."

"I'll monitor you." He set down his scanner and took an air syringe off his belt. As he programmed it, he said, "The molecules will form complexes with the neural structures and transmitters in your brain that interpret telepathic or empathic input. It will block the process enough to relax your mind."

"Relax." Dehya exhaled. "I've forgotten what that is like." She leaned back and closed her eyes. "All right. Do it."

Alaj injected her with the syringe. "It doesn't need long to take effect."

"And tomorrow?" she asked. "When I want more?"

"You'll be fine." Alaj slid the syringe into its case on his belt "I've given you just enough to release your neurological knots. You may be edgy tomorrow, but you'll think more clearly."

"All right." She already sounded calmer.

"Contact me if you have any problems," Alaj added.

"fifaimmm..."

"You shouldn't stay alone. Is your husband here?"

Eldrin walked over to them. "Yes, I'm here." He pushed down the tugs of suspicion he felt any time another man came near his wife. "Is she all right?"

"I'm fine." Dehya opened her eyes dreamily. "Just fine."

Alaj looked up at him. "You'll need to tend her. Can you do that? Perhaps I should call in help for you."

Eldrin stiffened. Even though he had been married to Dehya for seven years, her people still patronized him. "Of course I can look after her." He hesitated, reluctant to reveal his ignorance but fearing a lack of knowledge on his part could endanger his wife. "What did you give her?"

 
  • "It's a Kyle relaxant," Alaj said.

Eldrin had no idea what he meant. "I see."

Alaj was watching him closely. "It's analogous to a muscle relaxant. If you push yourself too hard and too long, physically, your muscles can spasm. Keep pushing after that, and you could do serious damage. You need something to relax the spasm. I gave her the neural analog of that medicine."

Eldrin had never reached his physical limitations. In that sense, he didn't know what Alaj meant. But he had seen his father's epileptic seizures. Although his father had been in treatment for years, in his youth he had apparently almost died from the severity of his attacks. Several times Eldrin had suffered similar episodes—not epilepsy, but still an overload to his densely packed, overdeveloped neural structures. For him, it had happened in combat. Battle lust, they called it, but it was actually a convulsion. He couldn't control it. Dehya obviously had no desire to cause harm, nor did she suffer epilepsy, but he could see how the tremendous neurological strain could cause her mind to tie itself into knots in a manner similar to a muscle spasm. At his request, the Skolian doctors had treated him so he would never again experience those rages.

"I understand," he told Alaj.

"Good. Just stay with her." He turned to Dehya, who smiled at them both, her black lashes shading her eyes in a lush fringe. Alaj squinted at her, then turned back to Eldrin. "Make sure she doesn't wander off or hurt herself."

"You worry too much, Doctor Alaj." Dehya languorously

rose to her feet and shooed him toward the door. "Go on. Go treat my nephew's bodyguards. They always look stressed. Just imagine their lives, guarding him."

Although Alaj smiled, he seemed more alarmed than amused at the mention of her nephew, Kurj Skolia, the Imperator—military dictator of an empire. Eldrin had never seen the Imperator in that negative light; in many ways, Kurj was like a father to him.

"Call me if you have any trouble," Alaj told her.

"I will." Dehya pushed him out the door. "Go on."

Eldrin watched her, intrigued. She was far more relaxed this evening than was usual for his restrained, aloof wife. He thought of how she had looked up at him through her dark lashes. As he considered her, she turned and smiled slowly. Then she came over and put her arms around his neck.

"My greetings, gorgeous," she murmured.

He grinned and slid his arms around her waist. "You should take this medicine more often."

A shudder went through her. "I hope not."

He didn't want her mood to darken. Bending his head, he kissed her cheek. "It's certainly put you in good spirits."

She relaxed, pliant against him. "Doctor Alaj thinks I need to sleep more," she said softly. "What do you say? Bedtime?"

Eldrin laughed, his lips against her ear. "I think he is a wise doctor."

"Is Taquinil all right for the night?"

His good mood faded. "I hope so." He lifted his head so he could look down at her. "He had another attack. I got him to sleep just before you came home."

"Ah, no. I knew I felt something." She took his hand and headed down the hall. "It's no wonder my mind was in such terrible knots, if he was hurting."

As they reached Taquinil's room, Eldrin heard the boy mumbling in his sleep. Light from the living room filtered into the bedroom. Taquinil was a mound under the quilt, his cheek against the pillow. Even with his son sleeping, Eldrin felt the boy's mental strain.

And yet, as they approached the bed, Taquinil breathed out, long and slow, his body losing its rigid tension under the quilt He sighed and setded deeper into the covers. Even in

the dim light, Eldrin saw the dramatic change as the drawn lines of the boy's face smoothed out.

Dehya sat on the bed, taking care not to jostle her son. When she took his hand, he turned toward her, and his shoulders released their clenched posture. His fists uncurled and his breathing deepened.

"That's amazing," Eldrin said.

Dehya pressed her lips against Taquinil's forehead. Then she carefully let go of his hand and stood up so she and Eldrin were standing side by side. "He's so peaceful."

"He's a treasure." Eldrin drew her out of the room so they could talk without waking Taquinil. "How did you do that? It's the first time in days I've seen him at peace."

She walked down the hall with him. "I didn't do anything."

"Maybe it's the Kyle relaxant. It affects Taquinil, too."

She came to a stop in the entrance of the living room. "Gods, I hope not. It's nothing Taquinil should ever take."

"Not the drug. He has none of its chemicals in his body. But he's such a sensitive empath. He senses your relief and it eases him." It wouldn't be that unusual; among the three of them, they often affected one another with their moods and health. This was a more dramatic effect than usual, but not unreasonable.

"If that helps, I'm glad." She pulled him close, and her body curved against him. Her voice turned throaty. "We were discussing our own bedtime, if I remember correctly."

Eldrin's pulse surged. This wasn't his reserved wife, the restrained and distant Ruby Pharaoh of the Skolian Imperi-alate. In the darkness of their bedroom, the ice queen often melted in his arms, but tonight she was heating up before they came near their bed. He pulled her into a kiss, hungry, and he was still kissing her when they stumbled into their room. They fell onto the floater together, and the pillows bounced around them. Out of habit, he and Dehya shielded their minds, giving them privacy from everyone but each other.

Eldrin ran his hands over her slight curves and scraped at the fastenings of her jumpsuit. The cloth crinkled as he dragged the outfit off her body. Then he held her breasts, kneading them, probably too hard, but she didn't object. As

her breathing quickened, she tugged at his clothes. Soon they were bare skin to bare skin, and he knew only his hunger. He rolled her onto her back and settled on her body, trying to restrain himself so he wouldn't bruise her. She was pulling him to herself with an urgency that matched his own.

Later, they lay tangled together in the covers, sated and quiet. Dehya was sleeping on her side, her body pressed against him. Eldrin slid his hand over her hip. He hadn't felt this content in a long time. He closed his eyes and finally let go, unafraid of his dreams. Her neural relaxant had done wonders, her euphoric mood affecting him, too. For the first time in days he fell asleep without fear...

Asleep...

Dreaming...

Mind relaxing...

PAIN. Blindness. Such pain! Vitarex hungered for his agony, his grief, his torment. The monster sat on his stool, brutal in his transcendence, and the agony went on and on, inside his body, inside his soul...

A scream yanked Eldrin awake. He bolted upright, reaching for a sword he hadn't carried in years. Bleary and dazed, he scrambled out of bed and yanked on his sleep trousers. As he strode for the archway, shrugging into his shirt, another terrified cry broke the night. He ran through the dark, down the hall.

"Lights on!" he called. The hallway lit up as he entered his son's room. Taquinil was sitting up in bed, his terrified face stained with tears.

"It's all right," Eldrin said as he strode to the bed. "It's all right." He lifted the boy and cradled him against his chest. "I'm here, Taqui. You're all right. It'll be all right."

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