Read The Phoenix in Flight Online
Authors: Sherwood Smith,Dave Trowbridge
The Phoenix in Flight
Exordium: Book 1
December 27, 2011
ISBN: 978161138 059 0
Copyright © 2011 Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge
We are the children of conflict. We have been shaped by
struggle: against the Collective and its descendant, the Hegemony; against the
Adamantines, machines turned masters; against the Shiidra, ancient and
implacably hostile; and against the diluting force of interstellar distance. To
the student of humanity, it often seems that what we are depends as much on
what opposes us as on what sustains us.
We are the children of the Exile. No matter how far
diverged by their singular histories, every human culture in the Thousand Suns
resonates to its tragic echoes. How else could it be? All of us—Downsider,
Highdweller, even Rifter—are descended from the many and varied groups who
rejected the sterile conformity of the Solar Collective and chose instead to
flee in primitive starships through the Vortex.
We are the children of a mystery. We do not know what the
Vortex was. Perhaps it was an artifact of the sophonts we call the Ur, or of
the unknown enemy that destroyed them so long ago. The Vortex opened only
twice: once, to bring humankind here from the other side of the Galaxy,
scattering us through both space and time; once more, to disgorge a cybernetic
horror engendered by the Hegemony. We do not know if it will ever open again.
Without it, there is no return to Earth, if Earth even still exists.
Thus we are a deeply praeterite people, fascinated by the
bits of Earthly life our various ancestors carried with them through the
Vortex. In the face of all the forces arrayed against us, these fragments keep
us human, for they are sacraments of the deep realities that made our forebears
choose Exile and remain rooted in the fertile ground of their natural cultures.
Our languages, religions, social and political structures are grounded in these
fragments; to the extent that an innovation departs from these roots, it is
recognized as false, and fails.
We are the Phoenix, ever regenerate from the flames of
conflict, which burn away the dross to reveal the gold of true humanity.
Sundered from the mother of humankind by an immensity of space-time, we yet
remain the children of Earth.
Magister Davidiah Jones
Gnostor of Archetype and Ritual
The Roots of Human Process
What would we do without our enemies?
The Sanctus Teilhard
(Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)
The Phenomenon of Man
Lost Earth, ca. 200
N!Kirr was out of catalepsy into second sleep before he felt
his own mind again. He fled the awareness of his other lives and rose slowly
Pushing his way through first sleep, the aged Guardian
folded himself upright, his movements almost involuntary through habit, and
locked his secondary knees against his thorax with the deliberate grace of
The air tasted foul, like a moldy
N!Kirr flexed his mandibles irritably. The harsh clatter echoed through a thousand
images of the vault, as he registered the dust-laden sunbeams lancing into the
cool darkness through the Sunset Arch.
he thought. Disbelief wrenched his eyes into
focus, and their iridescent facets glinted as the Guardian peered about,
hissing with vexation. Had he lost a night and a day, then? Where were his
under-bearers, and his acolytes? Such a thing had never happened before!
“They shall have their shells broken for this! Sunset!”
N!Kirr, confused and dizzy, spoke at last, his anger leaking away.
“Sunset,” returned the vault, its echoes blurring the
chattering syllables, and N!Kirr swayed, overcome by a sudden sense of
wrongness. The sunset light was the color of an offworlder’s blood; the setting
Egg was entering Red Victory, one phase of the patient pulse of life that would
one day hatch another demon.
A swarm of acolytes scurried toward him, the edges of
their chelae pale with confusion and fear, but N!Kirr ignored them.
successor will see the hatching,
thought the Guardian dispassionately,
that timeless instant before the star-born demon shall swallow him and all our
race into its consuming fury.
“All the stars shall mark our passing, and the fulfillment
of our vigil and our trust.” The Guardian spoke to himself, but the acolytes
milling about his dais subsided into a respectful silence, except for those who
started scribbling on the writing plates hanging from their necks.
he thought angrily, vexed by their
dependence on him. He had seen too many of their generations fleeting past him,
their brief lives blurring into anonymity, and he was tired.
Still confused by the apparent loss of a day, N!Kirr looked
down at the focus of the Shrine and of his people. At the base of his thorax
lay the Heart of the Demon, partially sunken in the spiral-incised stone of the
Guardian’s dais. Its perfectly-reflecting surface mirrored in curved distortion
his anxious face as he bent over it, and the faces of his frightened
attendants, waiting silently for his guidance. His age-reddened chelae stroked
his throat patches in a rasping sigh, and he cautiously sank his mind into the
small sphere, seeking the Pattern. The feeling of wrongness intensified and the
stone-prisoned sphere assumed a numinous clarity to his eyes as he found only
N!Kirr brought his forearms down and stabbed at the Heart of
the Demon with his killing-thumbs. There was a muffled pop and the
mirror-sphere vanished, leaving only its shape in the stone and a few silvery
tatters. The acolytes shrieked in unison and fled in all directions, their
limbs clattering in noisy terror against the inlaid stone.
The Guardian stilled as the shock overthrew the haze of
ancient ritual endlessly repeated, and left him completely alert. The Heart of
the Demon had been stolen, and a simulacrum placed in its stead while he slept.
N!Kirr closed his eyes. Twenty thousand years he’d watched,
and generations of Guardians before him, and the Heart was gone. The Devourer
would wake again.
The vault seemed to echo to many voices, all familiar though
never heard before, multiplied by the carven wall of the Shrine to a tapestry
of compulsion and demand. N!Kirr surrendered to them gratefully, yielding up
the crushing knowledge of his race’s failure, so near the end of their long
vigil, and the voices swelled into a cold, blinding light that took him into
The next day, at the urging of its fellows, an acolyte crept
timidly back into the Shrine. It found the Guardian still standing there, its
carapace cold and lightless. Shortly after that, for the first time in ten
million years, the Shrine was empty of life and movement, a hollow shell
abandoned in the bloody light of a dying sun.
Soft music played in the Suite Royal of the glittership
The immense monocrystal viewport that made up one wall of the suite’s
richly-appointed parlor displayed a spectacular view of cloud-swirled
Arthelion. The planet curved away vast beneath the ship; above, the
Highdwellings in synchronous orbit were a golden arc disappearing over the
terminator into the planet’s shadow.
Eleris vlith-Chandreseki ignored the panorama from long
habit. As a girl, born a Highdweller and raised on a vast inside-out world
where the emptiness of space was unseen and underfoot, she’d found such views
threatening in a way that her Downsider cousins couldn’t understand. By the
time she’d returned home after her schooling and Grand Tour, she’d seen its
like too many times to be impressed.
To Eleris the glory of space existed merely as a backdrop
for the slim figure standing in front of the viewport, his hands loose, his
head a little to one side as he gazed out at the planet below—from which his
family had ruled the Thousand Suns for nearly a millennium.
Eleris shook back her tumble of curls to lie across her
naked back, and grinned as she padded barefoot across the floor of living
mosses, remembering a party in this same room seven years ago, when she turned
Life is too short to waste on men who are not rich, pretty, and
, she’d said to her cousin.
You’ll never get all three
, Leda had retorted.
Brandon nyr-Arkad had proved Leda wrong... or was going to
prove her wrong. He was easily the handsomest of the three royal sons, and his
name brought wealth and prestige enough for the most discriminating taste.
Together they could lead Douloi society, which the rest of the Panarchy
If only he had the wit to cooperate!
She closed the distance between them, her bracelets tinkling
faintly as she reached up to run her fingers through the silken black waves of
his hair. How could Brandon be so beautiful and yet so oblivious?
“What,” she whispered into his ear before nipping it, “are
you thinking about so passionately?”
His utter lack of any hint of passion made her statement a
tease, but she might as well have saved her breath.
“That last game,” he admitted. “There was an interesting
tactical tradeoff that I might have handled better, if...”
He turned, his blue-gray eyes as guileless as a child’s.
Exasperation caught in her chest, and she forced a smile.
“Brandon, Phalanx is a game for children.”
“Not Level Three.” He turned out his hands, smiling
ruefully. “I thought you enjoyed betting on me.”
The exasperation intensified to irritation. She breathed in
slowly and consciously dismissed it. He was never haughty or tiresome about the
deference due his rank, unlike (for instance) Krysarchei Phaelia Inesset, whom
he was expected to marry, and he never sneered dismissively at anyone outside
of the Navy, or the Council, like his oldest brother, the Aerenarch Semion.
She leaned up to kiss Brandon. He tasted of blue-wine.
, she thought, but she’d learned that saying so was useless, you
had to give a lover something to pay attention to.
He was always somewhat cloud-minded, but today he was worse
than usual. Why? He’d only had that single glass of wine since their arrival
back. Maybe he was more like the middle brother than she’d assumed. Everyone
said that Galen was kind, and gentle, but all he thought about was art and
Eleris leaned against him. “Brandon, we need to...” Not
‘talk.’ That was too serious. Brandon was never serious, and she had no
intention of lecturing him on his duty, as she had overheard the Krysarchei
Phaelia (who never let anyone forget her title) and her horrible mother doing
once. “What are we doing next?”
He grinned, his eyelids lifting—now he was seeing her. She
wore only her body art of climbing roses, a gem embedded in the center of each
blossom, and an elegant bracelet on each wrist.
She stepped back and struck a pose, tossed her hair back
again, and reveled in his appreciative gaze. “Afterward.”
But his answering grin began fading to distraction. She knew
very well the effect she had on her lovers, which meant his distraction had an
external cause. She dropped the pose and closed the distance between them.
“Brandon, is something wrong?”
His head tipped. “We haven’t sampled all the delights of the
yet. Ship layover is only three more days. We could stay on for
the next leg. What are you in the mood for? Winter or summer? Grav-skiing in
the Gargantua Range on Thisselion? Delph-tag in the Bhopal Archipelago on