Demons Of The Past 02: Revolution – Chapter 13
He strode cheerfully out of Balan’s Crystal, the noise of the casino fading as the doors slid shut. He slid the paychip into his inner pocket and took a deep breath of the night air. Sharp, spice-laden scents came to him, the smell of the Xaltinian jungle far below the Yunai Plateau, scents both above and below those of the city.
He whirled at that voice, the voice that was always waiting at the back of his mind, speaking in his heart. “Trey,” he said, keeping his voice under control, “what a surprise.”
“What’s a surprise is seeing you looking so cheerful without some hired company.”
Oh, ouch. But that’s the way the game has to be played. “Do you really believe I need to hire anyone, Trey? And did you just speak to me so you could insult me?”
She looked down for a moment and sighed. “Noâ€¦ No, of course you don’t. And you’re right, Taelin, and I’m sorry. Let me start again?”
“Always,” he said, his voice low and with an earnestness his casual smile did not match. I can risk that much. The dance has to have both involved.
“You’re looking â€¦ very good this evening, Taelin. I’ve heard your fortune has been mostly good â€“ although the last race wasn’t quite what you expected.”
He laughed lightly and gave her a Six-and-One. “I thank you for your compliment, Treyuuseiâ€¦ and true, but even I can’t expect to win every race, just most of them.” He gestured formally to his side, and she bobbed an acceptance and the two walked together down the corridor of light formed by the casinos, gaming-houses, arenas, bars, and restaurants on either side.
“Well, you certainly do win most of them. Your flying in the Shikkikan Mazerun wasâ€¦ inspired, even for you.”
He opened his mouth to make an observation about how she seemed to be still watching him, closed it, wondered if she was being followed. If she was, the unknown watchers would see that reaction, and the glance he made at her when she was looking elsewhere. And we both continue to play for an audience which may not even be there. “It was an exciting race. I nearly crashed Valabacal on the third turn.”
“I wondered about that!”
The two continued farther down, and their hands touched. Absently the fingers intertwined, as though their owners didn’t realize what they were doing, even as the conversation continued to other subjects. “Trey, I hope I’m not keeping you from anything importantâ€¦?”
“Oh, no, no, I was here for the Five-Year Import Review.” She made a face. “Mishel had said she’d take this one, but there was word of a new ruin found under her ongoing grant and so here I am.”
“Ugh. Sorry to hear about that. I know what a bore the Import Review is.”
Now it was Trey’s turn, and from the very corner of his eye he could see her go through nearly the identical run of expressions, the mouth opening to say something cutting, the hand starting to pull away, and then the mind changing. Read it well, unknown watchers.
“Bore, but over now.” She paused, then asked with elaborate casualness and caution, “Soâ€¦ you aren’t busy yourself, now?”
“I wasn’t, no.” He smiled at her with something approaching the smile he used to wear around her almost all the time, then looked down, his face showing more than a trace of shame as he continued, “After they dropped me to a Lesser Family, I haven’t had much to do anyway exceptâ€¦ well, you’ve seen.”
She gripped his hand tighter. “Taelinâ€¦”
“â€¦Don’t.” But he said it gently, and still without meeting her gaze.
She didn’t let go, and studied his face for a moment, before turning and letting them walk a little farther. “You know, I’m absolutely starving.”
Taelin let his body relax slightly, just barely visible if you were watching carefully, as though to say Thank the Towers, we got past that one. “Then let me treat you.” He patted his pocket. “I’m far from poor. What would you like?”
She glanced around. “I’d forgotten what a mishmash this is! It looks like we could get almost anything. Dachi Komomyiri, Alagath cuisine â€“ ooh, there’s a Zilgoda restaurant! I always loved that sauce and noodle thing, um, dihorasan! I haven’t had that in ages.” Her face fell slightly. “But you kind of spoiled me on it. I’ve never found a restaurant that can make it as well as you used to.”
Oh, that’s well-played! “Used to?” he said with a shocked tone, but with a smile to take the edge off. “I will prove to you that I can still make it just as well, if that’s what you want.”
“But you’d need to get â€“”
“Valabacal is already stocked with those ingredients. It’s one of my favorite dishes too, after all.”
“Wellâ€¦” she looked hesitant, yet she was still holding his hand tightly.
He took her other hand. “I insist now. If you haven’t had dihorasan sinceâ€¦ well, you simply must have some while I’m here.”
Treyuusei bit her lip, then smiled. “All right, Taelin.” They turned down the street, towards the port where Valabacal waited, just visible in the lights from this distance.
They didn’t make it to the kitchen.
At least not right away. The airlock scarcely closed behind them when Taelin found Trey’s lips on his and his hands twining in her long, silky blue-black hair, surrounded by her scent of dawnflowers and ocean. Her hands were already under his jacket; he dropped it from his shoulders as their feet continued moving, towards the cabin both of them knew well. Her neck and shoulders, softer than I rememberedâ€¦ and the muscle under them, smooth, perfectly definedâ€¦ Her vest hit the floor with a soft sighing thud â€“ or perhaps the sigh came from its owner, or maybe from him.
There was barely any clothing left to drop by the time the cabin door opened and they fell together on the bed.
Taelin looked across the pillow at his golden hair tangled with Treyuusei’s night-black, saw her smiling back at him, sweat still shining on her body. “I suppose that’s one advantage of all this t’cha-damned maneuvering.”
“Reunions can be very enjoyable,” Treyuusei agreed, leaning over and kissing him again â€“ then breaking away before the distraction could become complete. “But it’s only worth it if we get away with this. Your sensors gave the all-clear too?”
He nodded. “With our clothes being the repeaters we could cover the whole ship. No one’s been here since I locked her up. We’re secure.”
She sighed and looked at him regretfully before standing up. “I guess we’d better get to business before we spend all the time on something less useful.”
He allowed himself to enjoy the view as she swayed to the closet and then turned to throw him a delighted smile. “You still have my clothes in here!”
“Neither version of me would get rid of them. The version people think they see now is still trapped in sentiment â€“ the last trace of his past.” He got up and chose a new outfit to put on; he really should shower, but that would offer more opportunities for them to distract themselves. More time for that later. “It’s looking bad out there.”
“Worse than you know. Lukh and Shagrath both signed off on a recommendation for a “survey” of Chak and all the other associated Chakron worlds, but the mandate’s clearly to prepare for some kind of isolation or even deportation to controlled worlds. And Taelinâ€¦ Taelin, the Emperor put his seal on it!”
Taelin closed his eyes. He remembered the Emperor’s kindly smile and the stern instructions he gave to any who entered his court, a man of fairness and iron will. “I can’t imagine it.”
“Neither could Lukh. You should have seen his faceâ€¦ or maybe you shouldn’t. There’s something terrible going on behind that. We’re sure of it. Emperor Galata would never have agreed to this, no matter the provocation. At least, not the Emperor Galata we knew.”
“Right. Just as the Nissen Frankel we knew would never have ended up fighting Sasham.” They finally arrived in the kitchen and he began setting out the ingredients. “It has to be something associated with the Monitors. What’s Lukhas doing?”
“Moving very carefully. If you’re right â€“ and Lukh and I think the same thing â€“ then Shagrath’s the only possible one at the top of the conspiracy. He was alone with the Emperor several times in the past few months. It’s hard to imagine that he could manage to do anything to the Emperor in a few minutes aloneâ€¦ but the whole thing’s hard to imagine.” She got out the steaming pans. “He’s got a plan to hopefully gain more of Shagrath’s trust while getting a better idea of what kind of changes Shagrath may have made to the conditioning, but it will take a while â€“ especially since none of us can afford too many risks.”
Taelin thought for a moment as he started cutting up the yanmas for the sauce. “Psionics.”
Trey nodded. “It could be. But there are so many psi-screened areas in the main compounds, we just can’t imagine how a psi, even a powerful one, could operate there for any length of time.”
“But it would fit with a lot of what we’ve been seeing. If soâ€¦ you’d better keep a very close eye on that supposed increased psi research.”
“Don’t worry. Lukh’s on that already. I’m going to be touring the research facilities myself later.”
“What about Sasham?”
“Well, we still don’t know where he is now,” she admitted. “You’ve seen all the rumors and newsflashes, but actually there aren’t any confirmed sightings since Meletta.”
“You’ve confirmed Meletta? The timing seemed insane.”
She nodded. “At least part of the record from Teraikon was real. He and his two friends dove straight into the black hole as it was forming and activated a TT drive. Apparently the catapult effect actually worked; they crossed the entire empire in less time than it takes us to cross a solar system.”
“Fallen Towers. That must’ve been one hell of a ride. Were we able to verify it?”
“Knowing what to look for, yes. The picket stations along that line each recorded a transient in the right sequence, but it was just barely out of the noise. And you know that transients get ignored on any picket station unless they’re repeats.”
He nodded. The sauce was starting to thicken now. “So Varan went from Teraikon to Meletta in a few hours. Too bad we can’t figure out a way to do that regularly.”
“Lukhas kept digging for the details with his own people and turned up a few more that worry us,” Treyuusei continued. “When they left Meletta, the ship they were on was The EÃ¶nwyl.”
He was momentarily shocked enough to stop stirring the sauce as it cooked â€“ and almost burned it as a consequence. He spent a furious few seconds stirring and removing the almost-burned layer. “So he arrives at Meletta, sells off the ship he landed on, and leaves with the very same Free Trader who was at Tangia when it all started. The one who sat Vigil with him.” He set the pan aside from the heat and started rolling out the pale-green ritta dough. “But â€¦ there’s just no way that could have been arranged. Not by anyone. He certainly didn’t know where he was going â€“ not even by Shagrath’s version of the story would that make any sense.”
“Coincidence is possible, but Lukhas thinks there’s something more that we don’t know,” she said. “A lot more. But he doesn’t dare push farther in that area, because there’s something else very wrong in that whole sequence of events. He’s not sure, but what little he’s learnedâ€¦ Taelin, Lukh doesn’t think Varan or his friends did anything to attract the attention of the authorities.”
A cold chill went down his back, and he slowly set the roller down and turned back to Trey. “Butâ€¦” He closed his eyes, concentrated. “But thenâ€¦ the system forces did try to stop them, right?”
“That’s confirmed. They lost one ship in direct combat.”
By the Emperor’s Ancestors. “That means that Shagrathâ€¦ or someoneâ€¦ got the alert to them practically when it happened.”
She was pale. “Which is only possible, as far as we know, by one method.”
He swallowed, and the warmth and pleasure of Trey’s company seemed suddenly very small and far away. “Fallen Towers, Trey. That would mean â€¦ that Shagrath himself is a psionic.”
“And it would make everything make a whole hellish amount of sense, wouldn’t it?”
“We’ve got toâ€¦” He stopped himself. Lukhas undoubtedly figured this out long before he did. Probably as soon as he got the report. “Lukh’s still going to try to play him. Which means he’s got to dance from mindshield to mindshield and never ever let Shagrath catch him without it.”
“Yes.” Trey’s face was very grave. “He says he has some other ideas, but they’re risky. And he needs more information. He needs to know exactly what happened on Meletta. But he can’t investigate it himself.”
The cold was still there, but there was also, suddenly, the feeling of hope and of being able to do something. “And the Meletta Ultimate Freestyle starts in three months.”
“Not quite your usual race,” she agreed, and her smile drove the cold back, far back. “But maybe just the kind of risk that Taelin Ardan might be looking for to replace the responsibilities he used to have.”
Taelin cut the dough into the narrow, narrow slices that would be the noodles and dropped them gently into the steamer, then smiled back. “Yes. It just might be.”
The game was even more dangerous now. But now, too, he understood what they were playing against. You knew this from the beginning, Sash. And no wonder you couldn’t tell us.
But maybe, soon, we can tell you that we know.