The Scrolls of Icaria by Jamie
Book 2 – 'War of the Angels'
Part III - Baron of Rood
Jamie sat on the edge of his bed, carefully examining the golden medallion resting in his palm. Its heavy chain fell between his fingers, swinging in the air. It was the first time he’d handled the object since taking it from Perkinjius' shop the night of the antiquities dealer's death. Images of their failed attempt to rescue the prisoners from the Prison of Pain and the mission’s tragic end continued to play out in his head. Once more death had deposited a grisly gift at his feet. How many more might there be? He was pragmatic enough to know the answer.
Stephen had been a key figure within the movement, and Jamie was just beginning to realize how sorely he’d miss the man who’d been both foil and mentor. It hurt his head to think about it, but it hurt his heart even more.
Part of him hated Stephen for devising and then going through with the impossible plan. Nic had been right in his disapproval. Stephen, what were you thinking? Clutching the amulet, he stared down at it. In one brief instant he’d lost a valuable and important player in the movement, and a friend. Part of him understood the antiquities dealer's motives: for all his bluster and bravado, Perkinjius had been tender hearted and limitlessly compassionate, as Jamie had learned that from his sessions with the man. He himself was much the same, though he’d learned to force himself to be hard enough to do what must be done. Still, from his first glimpse of the prisoners of Stone Gate, the image of their tortured and broken bodies never really left his mind.
Sighing, he turned the heavy medallion over in his hand. A Fulcarien temple amulet, as Stephen had identified it for him. A large and intricate piece, it’s strange design featured a pair of wings that wrapped around the medallion’s circumference: Jamie’d found the imagery quite ironic. In deep relief on its obverse, he noted a pattern of swirling lines. Its reverse pictured a cloud with lightning bolts shooting from it. The object had a bizarre, totem-like appearance, but it would serve its purpose.
That the amulet and chain were fashioned from gold of high purity greatly added to their value. But that wasn’t the real reason for Jamie’s desire to possess it. Buried deep inside the object was a neural-plasmid crystal, a high capacity memory device capable of storing vast amounts of information; much more than the simple holo projections the amulet currently generated. More importantly, the crystal had the ability to imprint its user's genetic code. He’d been fortunate to discover the amulet; he was quite sure that it would have been impossible for him to secure a plasmid crystal on his own.
Developed on Altinestra, neural-plasmid crystals were one of the many products of the scientific community that had driven the planet’s economy before the embargo. That the Fulcarien priests from the commonwealth world of Darlanus could afford to imbed one in the amulet for the sole purpose of creating a simple holo projector seemed immensely impractical and ostentations; much like using a solid gold ingot as a doorstop. Its existence pointed to the immense wealth the dominant religious sect on Darlanus had amassed.
In the library, he’d run a quick search on the religion, but after only a few minutes ended the feed. The sect and its beliefs weren’t of interest to him. Based on the acquisition of wealth and power fueled by a zealot-like fervor with trading, the Fulcarien faith seemed well suited to Darlanus – a world based on trade in all of its forms and derivatives. Jamie decided that the religion was rather strange, but that wasn’t his concern. Fulcarien beliefs encouraged the ostentations display of wealth. And while he surmised that might be the reason behind creating such an expensive object, his main concern centered on his present circumstances.
Moments earlier, using his powers to create an electromagnetic field, he’d easily managed to wipe the simple information imprinted on the crystal. Now ready to enter a new set of data, Jamie was well aware of the storage capacities of the crystal as he prepared to put the device to work for him.
Activating another field, he began beaming the sum total of The Screen into the chip. It only took a few moments. The chip was like a sponge. It had the ability to absorb data faster than Jamie could stream it. When he was finished, he’d created an exact duplicate of the information in his head. It could be updated over time as he acquired more, but for the moment he’d succeeded in creating a backup. After a little more manipulation he was able to imprint the structure with the unique biometric signature of his brain wave pattern, making it both secure and available only to him. Simple contact with his mental signature would allow him complete access to the data he’d placed within the crystal. He wouldn’t even have to remember a code or password. Simple contact with the process of his mind coming in it would cause its activation.
Ever since he’d presented his plan to Nic and Castor, Jamie had become obsessed with the phenomena called Cold Sleep Memory Loss Syndrome. Diagnosed millennia before when cold sleep was first developed, it had become a problem on early generation long-term voyages.
Initially, elaborate computerized memory aids had been devised to assist those who’d become its victims. Unfortunately, they were simply references someone with the syndrome could consult to learn more about their past, like an amnesiac consulting family and friends about his past life.
The syndrome didn’t affect all humans equally; some seemed to suffer little or no effect, while others couldn’t even remember their own names. Historical records indicated that some of the colonists on the Titan and Victory had succumbed to it. But Icarians, it was discovered, were even more susceptible than humans. With greater frontal lobe development and increased function in the higher parts of their brains, an Icarian stood a better then seventy percent chance of manifesting some form of CSMLS.
“It’s our worst nightmare,” Jamie had told Nic during his first visit after they’d sealed their commitment. “If we succeed in making it into the future, will we even remember why we did it?”
At Jamie’s request, Charlie had done some research into the syndrome and had been able to offer his brother some information. As Jamie had suspected, a preventative had been discovered, but even after centuries of research it’s production was one of the most difficult processes ever devised, making the product a hundred times more expensive than the gold medallion he now held in his hand.
But Charlie had dug deeply into the secret database of the empire and discovered that in the past fifty years, with the creation of the Icarian race, Gold Glass had grown keener on finding a better solution, and after a crash research program was ordered, they had done just that. The geneticists of Gold Glass were able to manipulate the simple Darroot plant to produce a substance that would counter the effects of CSMLS. It was to have been one more economic tool Altinestra would wield on behalf of its influence within the commonwealth community, but the embargo had ended any hopes of trade and the project was shelved.
After he finished his task, Jamie walked to the small dresser in his room. Pulling open the top drawer, he placed the amulet under a pair of folded tights. Satisfied with his actions, he closed the drawer just as the door opened and Castor entered the room.
“I want to have a few minutes with you,” Castor began, “mostly to inform you that I’ve been able to move things along according to your wishes.”
“I don’t know how you’ve been able to do it, Castor, but thank you.”
“It hasn’t been easy, young master,” Castor sighed and Jamie noticed how tired the Kalorian suddenly appeared. “But your father knew what he was doing. He always insisted that I learn as much as possible regarding the resistance. Those contacts, and my sources throughout the Kalorian community have kept the dream alive.”
“I’m amazed there’s even a resistance left,” Jamie commented.
“Had the Council been the only resistance movement, there wouldn't be,” Castor replied. “But our race has a long tradition of cooperation amongst ourselves. Slavery can do that to a people: It can break their collective back or make it stronger. Because we’ve always lived in communities, we’ve been able to use our ability to work together to our advantage.”
“Thank you, Castor. I know it hasn’t been easy.”
“The days ahead won’t be easy for any of us, Jamie, but I fear most of all for you. I’m glad you’re aligned with the young Gahdar. And I’m pleased that he’s become your pa’amore.”
“But not formally,” Jamie replied. “It’s not recorded anywhere. No one was a witness to it. Moreover it hasn’t received the legal approval Icarian mating is required to have.
“Ah, but there you would be wrong, young master.” Castor's face relaxed for a moment as he allowed himself a sly little smile.
“Wrong? What do you mean?”
“When the heart chooses, the bond is forged. Icarians, Kalorians or humans, it’s all the same. You don’t need a formal ceremony or a mark made on some official register. But in your case, Jamie, there is a bit more."
“More? Castor, what are you talking about?”
“When you were taken to Compari. You remember that, no?”
Jamie nodded. Of course he remembered it. He’d carried the memory of that day and the boy he’d encountered on the training pitch in his head for years afterward.
“Well, I know for a fact that when you made your choice there were two witnesses and the Intention to Mate was recorded.”
“What do you mean by Intention to Mate? I’ve never heard of that.”
“Like Kalorians, Icarians carry a certain pedigree; we’re both slave races, after all. Sometimes we’re allowed to pick the partner we wish to be with. Other times the choice is made for us, for purposes of...” Castor paused and he made no attempt to mask the sour look on his face, “...for purposes of breeding, and improving the stock. The Intention to Mate is a document that carries much weight. While not a formal mating, it states a future intention. It does count for something.”
“And I have one of these... what?... Intentions?”
“Your father submitted one the day after your trip to Compari. He filed it through the proper channels, but he was clever and did it in a way that wasn’t so obvious. Nevertheless, it exists. A careful check of the proper database will prove it. It was slipped into the system, and was routinely approved without piquing interest.”
“But how could he know?”
“Because you yourself stated the intention.”
“But I was ten!”
“Intentions to Mate have been filed as early as the very day of birth for Kalorians and the day of decantation for Icarians, without any acquiescence on the part of the two parties involved. That you actually made a choice carries even more weight, and the fact that the applicant submitting your Intention was none other than Edmond Croal... well... do you get my point?"
“I’m beginning to.” Jamie started to smile, but then a scowl wiped it away. “But the Emperor can do as he pleases. Such things mean nothing to a dictator.”
“Maybe so Jamie, but you’ve done nothing against the law. That’s most important. In fact, you can’t be punished for simply going through with your intention, and neither can Niklas.”
Jamie stood silently absorbing what Castor had just relayed. “I think I understand,” he finally replied. “I’m going to learn more.”
“That’s a good idea. But don’t let it eclipse your other work.”
“I won’t, Castor.” Jamie paused. Then making clear he was refocusing his thoughts, Jamie’s eyes bored into the Kalorian. “But that’s not why you came, Castor.”
“No, it’s not. I have three reports, young master.”
“The first item is the request you made ten days ago. It took quite a bit of persuasion, but an agreement has been reached. There will be an assembly; that is, if you can accomplish your part in it.”
“I can, Castor. It might take a few trips to the library. And I know we don’t have much time, but no matter what, I’ll do it. I promise. Did they agree on the timing, though?”
“Yes. It was unanimous that the night you perform for the Emperor’s fete is acceptable. There’ll be less chance of discovery.”
“Good, I'm glad they agreed to my suggestion. I’ll make sure the network is set up, and that it’s secure. I had my doubts that they’d agree.”
“You are the Lord Protector now. Your requests are taken seriously, even if not everyone agrees with them."
“I can understand their feelings.” Jamie’s voice dropped. "I’m a boy – almost eighteen Commonwealth, but still a boy – and a dancer in the opera house. What do they know of me other than that? Well, and the promises I’ve made, I suppose."
Castor simply gave Jamie a sympathetic nod and then continued.
“The second thing," Castor said as he returned to the topic, “is that we’ve been able to secure Mobley. That also wasn’t easy, but the comp’s safe… for now."
A smile lit up Jamie’s face. “That’s the best news you could have told me. But Castor, what’s the third thing?” and Jamie gave the Kalorian a look of anticipation.
“The third thing is…” Castor paused and for an instant his eyes lost their focus. “…is that the preparations on Ajax have been completed. Everything is as you requested.” It was then that Castor’s face visibly sagged, and it looked like he'd aged ten years between one breath and the next.
Seeing the Kalorian’s expression combined with the old man’s sudden chilly demeanor compelled Jamie to ask. “How many, Castor?”
Castor didn’t have to ask the meaning of Jamie’s question. Instead he averted his eyes and spoke in little more than a whisper. “Best you don’t know that, young master.” And while the cold flinty look on Castor’s face stopped Jamie from asking again, it didn’t stop him from scanning Castor’s mind. The shocking discovery made him start to gasp, but not wishing to alert Castor as to what he’d done, Jamie struggled to contain his emotions.”
“Now, if there’s nothing else, I’ll go.” Castor turned toward the door.
“Just one thing,” Jamie wanted to give Castor a smile, but after what he’d just learned it was impossible. “Thank you again, and I’m sorry."
“It’s not your fault, Jamie.” Castor’s voice dropped. “Evil men have forced all of us to take drastic measures. Blood has been spilled, and there will be more. But you already know that.”
Castor stared at Jamie for a few seconds then turned and exited the room. Once the door closed Jamie stood in his room staring at the floor. Once more, lives had been lost. He’d made a request. Castor had complied. And while success had ultimately been achieved, the cost had been high; far higher than he would have expected.
“Is this how it’s always going to be?” The ominous thought raced through his mind and a black mood enveloped him. “Does every request I make require someone to pay with their blood?” The concept was so depressing he tried to suppress it, but with little success.
Realizing that focusing on things he couldn’t change was fruitless, he knew he must move forward. Leaving the dormitory, he walked the brief distance to the school. His destination: the private rehearsal studio of Trio Chrysalis.
Entering the school, Jamie took a nearby lift to the third floor. After a few seconds of ascent, the lift’s door opened to deposit him at the entrance of a long hall housing a number of private studios. Even though the studio his friends used was at the opposite end of the corridor, loud blaring music breached the closed door of their studio and reverberated down the hall. The sound level increased as he approached the room and exploded into a roar when he opened the door. Almost bowled over by the sound he chuckled, not even trying to suppress the grin that spread across his face. He’d never known his friends to practice their routines quietly. Soft chords, gentle melodies and languid ballads weren’t the trio’s style. The maddening, pounding beat of the music they chose was always loud, bold, and impossible to ignore.
Looking up at the studio’s high ceilings he watched his friends spinning and gliding through the air. Their moves were amazing and their routine breathtaking. Moving to one of the corners of the studio, he stood and watched Yves, Jeremy, and Lucas perform their aerial ballet. Observing the trio, Jamie remembered his discussions with Stephen and Damian; it triggered an unexpected shudder that was strong enough to cause his wings to twitch. The boys had been one of Gold Glass’s experiments and while they turned and tumbled, his mind conjured up a vision of a vast army of Thrones endowed with similar abilities. Such a force would be a fearsome, formidable foe. A few minutes passed while Jamie patiently watched and waited. When the music finally ended, the boys floated to the floor.
“Hoping to get a few tips, Jamie?” Lucas laughed as he grabbed a nearby towel.
“No, I thought I’d make sure you haven’t completely deconstructed the dance I worked so hard to choreograph for you.” Jamie shot Lucas a droll look, but the smile he struggled so hard to suppress inevitably broke through.
“As you can see, we’ve made a few small changes,” Yves eyes sparkled, “after all, we had to put the Chrysalis stamp on it.”
“I guess you haven’t completely ruined it.” Jamie laughed loudly, giving up any attempt to continue his serious act.
“But you didn’t come here to watch us, did you?” Jeremy called out from a far corner of the studio where he’d gone to fetch a clean dry towel. Snapping it open he began to dab at the sweat on his face and neck. Walking back to his friends, his look was both serious and inquisitive. “I caught a glimpse of your face when you came into the studio. What’s up?”
As if on cue Lucas and Yves joined Jeremy, giving Jamie their own appraising looks. Jamie’s smile evaporated.
“You’re right. I didn’t come here to watch you dance. Things have changed... a lot. I’ll need your help.”
“You know we’re here for you, Jamie,” Yves replied.
“I know that, but...”
“Here he goes with the buts again.” Lucas frowned. “But it’s dangerous...”
“But you could get hurt...” Jeremy interjected.
“But you could get killed.” Yves gave Jamie a steely look before adding, “We’re not stupid!”
“I know you’re not stupid,” Jamie replied defensively, unable to staunch the feelings of hurt that bled into the tone of his voice. “I never accused you of being stupid. It's just...”
“Unless you’ve forgotten Jamie, we were there,” Lucas eyes took on a steely glow. It was a look of both anger and pain. “We were all there, in the Hall of Mirrors. We saw what they did to Cristophe. We were there when they brought him back... “ Lucas paused and from the look on his face, Jamie wasn’t sure if his friend was going to explode or cry, “...to die.”
Yves took a step toward Jamie, faced his friend square on, put his hands on Jamie’s shoulders and looked into his friend’s eyes. Taking a deep breath he spoke. “We’ve seen a lot. We know a lot... now. You’ve shown us what you can do. We’ve met your brother. We even know you’ve secretly become the pa’amore of your gladiator, Niklas. What are you afraid of? Don’t you trust...?”
“No,” Jamie shouted. “No.” his voice suddenly became soft and small. “I’d trust all of you with my life.”
Lucas, who’d been clutching his towel, let it drop to the floor. Approaching Jamie he reached out and clasped Jamie’s hand. “I know how you feel, Jamie. Every day, I wake up ready to begin my day. I start to get out of bed, and then I remember.” He paused, and Jamie squeezed his hand. He didn’t have to scan the boy’s mind to feel his pain. “I’ll never see him again... never.” Tears began to form in Lucas eyes, but he blinked them away. A fierce expression grew on his face. “Trust us, Jamie. We’re more than pretty boys who can dance.”
Jamie stood, his eyes darting to the eyes of his friends and he felt their pain, their strength, their resolve and most importantly, their lion-hearted determination. Finally he gave Lucas a kind and loving look. Stepping forward he hugged his friend tightly. Lucas accepted and returned Jamie’s embrace. “I know you’re more than pretty boys who can dance. That’s why I love you so much.” He gave Lucas a light kiss on the cheek.
“Then let us stand with you, Prince de Valèn,” a grin broke out on Yves face. “Together to the end.”
“Well said,” Jeremy nodded. “Now are you going to just stand there hugging Lucas, or do you give us the plan?”
Jamie smiled. “You're all totally incorrigible. But I warn you, don’t come crying to me when you’re all killed."
Yves howled with laughter. “For a smart boy, sometimes you say the stupidest things.”
“It was meant as a joke. You know, gallows humor and all that...”
“Well, I don’t plan on hanging from any gallows,” Yves gave a defiant laugh. “And I don’t think my two dancing partners plan on doing that, either.”
“Very well. Sit down and listen.”
“Does this mean we also find out about your act?” Lucas' eyes twinkled mischievously.
“I’m working on a rebellion,” Jamie shook his head in disbelief, “and you’re still worried about my act!”
“And...” Lucas, appearing unfazed, raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, if it makes you happy, I’m going to tell you what I’ve planned, and that includes telling you about my act for the Emperor’s birthday.”
Tipping their wings up the four boys dropped to the soft Marley mats covering the floor of the studio. Sitting cross-legged and forming a knee-to-knee circle with the other boys, Jamie began to explain as his three friends listened with rapt attention. When he was finished, the three boys of Trio Chrysalis readily acquiesced to the plan; a bit too quickly and enthusiastically for Jamie. But as he spoke, he knew by the gleam in their eyes that they were in. The die had been cast. His plan was growing in scope and strength, even though he still had serious doubts of its chances for success.
When he was finished, he got up and walked to the door of the studio, but just as he was about to depress the handle the movement of feet stomping firmly on the floor caused him to look back.
Flashing Jamie a confident and determined look, Lucas surprised Jamie by giving his friend the formal salute of an imperial storm trooper. “As you command, General de Valèn.” he smiled. Yves and Jeremy seeing Lucas actions snapped to and did the same. Under other circumstances Jamie would have laughed and dismissed them as being clownish, but he knew the seriousness of their intent. Surprising even himself, he returned their salute, then left the room. Walking down the hall he once more heard the blare of music pouring forth from the boy’s studio. It really was war, and he was building his army. The thought echoed in his head. And if that were so then, for all his worries, fears, and woeful lack of experience, he supposed he was its general.
A brief walk across the campus brought Jamie back to his room and seconds after closing and locking the door, the prince was on his knees rummaging under his bed. It took a moment of searching, but soon his hands came to rest on a small chest. Gripping both ends of the box, he slid it out onto the floor and stared at it. Spinoza, sitting on the edge of the bed cocked, its head and joined Jamie in appraising the small rectangular wooden chest. Unfastening a latch in the center of the chest, Jamie slowly lifted the lid. Inside was a jumble of personal effects, but nestled among them was a thin cylindrical piece of metal. Although small, its weight was surprising for its size, for packed inside was an array of the finest and most advanced technology the Altinestran Empire had to offer.
Running a finger across the gleaming surface Jamie wished he’d been the inventor of such a complex device, but though he wasn’t, if he could do with it what he hoped he could, his modifications would prove invaluable. The most amazing thing of all was that although the device represented the latest in design it was as far removed from any security-restricted piece of imperial technology as one could get. In reality it was a consumer product readily available to the general populace. The model he now held had been designed for human children mostly in their teenage years. He’d gotten Castor to procure one for him in one of the many shops that lined one of the grand boulevards in a section of that city that specialized in electronic and technological consumer equipment.
A simple com unit, the device was tethered to the great commercial, non-military satellite network of the Empire. A compact marvel of design, there was little it couldn’t do when it captured one of the hundreds of uninterrupted and publicly available signals continuously beamed down to the planet every nanosecond of every day. The device Jamie held in his hand had more functions than ninety-eight percent of its owners ever used. In addition to communication functions, it was a small but powerful tool that could do many things, even though the model he’d procured was more a toy for adolescents than the more serious adult models or the highly secure military devices that were its counterparts.
One of the innovations of Altinestran design was the standardization of all electronic and technical devices far beyond previously accepted Commonwealth standards. It was this common characteristic that Jamie hoped to exploit.
The internal elements of most devices were the same, no matter how simple or complex the model. They were simply cheaper and more efficient to produce on a mass scale without any variations. While assembly line standardization remained the forefront of industrial manufacturing, the Altinestran’s refined their processes with a fanaticism of precision unheard of in the whole of the Commonwealth.
Other than variations in external shape and internal design, the true difference in most products lay in the software used to power them. Throughout the long history of Altinestra, the geniuses of the planet’s scientific community had made some of the most amazing and innovative advances in the field of software design. The time-honored profession of hacking remained alive and well and even programs from the Empire weren’t entirely immune. But if a list were drawn up of the entire Commonwealth population of hackers who could successfully crack an Altinestran security program it would number less than ten, six of whom were currently serving life sentences on a remote Commonwealth penal colony.
Sliding the device into the large inside pocket of his cloak Jamie rose, unlocked the door and hurried from his room as a barrage of protesting squawks erupted from an excited Spinoza, bent on registering its displeasure at being ignored by its master.
Rushing to the library, Jamie managed to skirt the watchful eye of Artur and eventually arrived at his usual informatics station. Activating the station, he reached into his cloak, and retrieved the com device. Days before he’d performed the activation program that accompanied all such devices. The simple and easy to use program allowed Jamie to code the device to his own DNA. It was a process so common any consumer could effortlessly perform the task. But once coded to him, it would be nearly impossible, save for a highly-skilled technician, to subvert.
Sliding a finger across a tiny crystal imbedded into the device the seamless piece of metal appeared to glow from within. A second later a small chirp sounded. Tugging at both ends of the cylindrical device, he was able to separate the com into two pieces. Laying the smaller of the two pieces on the desk in front of him, Jamie studied the larger piece still in his hand for a moment, and then he entered the net. Ten minutes later, his trance broken, he was reassembling the device. For a second time he placed his finger over the spot that held the small crystal. As he was slipping the device back into his cloak pocket, the com’s soft inner glow faded and the device powered down.
Dashing from the library, a shudder ran up Jamie’s spine. He had a series of appointments to keep, and little time to waste. Taking a small hov to the center of Küronas, Jamie arrived at the city's central drop zone. Leaving the general transport hov he’d boarded, he casually walked around the large terminal. After a few minutes of searching he found what he was looking for. Approaching a small nondescript private hov of an older design, he saw that its hatch was open just a crack. Quickly entering the craft, the portal rapidly closed behind him. Sliding into the copilot’s seat he adjusted his harness and turned to his left to discover he was being dissected by the scrutinizing gaze of Renaud.
“Yes, sa’Crêsmané,” the Viper curtly replied.
Seconds later, after a burst of bland, no-nonsense communication between Renaud and Imperial Air Control had concluded, the hov ascended and they were underway.
“What are the risks?” Ten minutes into the flight, Jamie finally broke his silence.
“Not too great, as long as you work quickly,” Renaud stared passively out the hov’s forward window. Just moments before, he’d gotten the hov up to supersonic flight and Jamie could see that they were approaching Mach 2. Without any further words Renaud piloted the craft, while Jamie, lost in thought, simply stared out the forward windscreen.
In less than thirty minutes, they were approaching the same construction site where Hippolito had brought him weeks before. Renaud dropped the hov out of supersonic, and after a series of maneuvers they were flying down the large bore the Angel of Death had flown him into the day he’d rescued Jamie from the Prince of Hypernia’s amorous advances.
“Hovercraft 736, you have entered restricted air space.” The command that crackled from the hov’s communication equipment was firm and direct.
“Acknowledged, air control. I’m having mechanical problems,” Renaud replied, sounding cool and calm. “I think if I land and restart I’ll be fine.”
“We are monitoring you.”
“Of course,” Renaud replied. “In one minute I’ll land, restart and leave. I have my own schedule to keep.”
“736, that's one minute, and no more,” the voice of the air controller repeated flatly. “Delay longer and we will take immediate punitive action.”
Moments later, the hov landed on the floor of the same large cavern that the boys had explored before. Popping the hatch, Jamie dove out. Seconds later, Renaud restarted his engine and was flying away.
“Problem corrected, air control, and resuming previous course,” Renaud said. His voice still calm, relaxed and businesslike as he exited the tunnel and flew away from the large, plateau-like mound towering above Overland Flats.
After pausing to watch Renaud’s exit, Jamie approached the massive device that sat in the center of the cavern. Its design was strange and Jamie couldn’t suppress his smirk when a crude image popped into his head of a large turbine from a hydroelectric plant and a Battlecom mating. Were the act possible, the device sitting before him could have been their bastard child.
Renaud had assured him that tests had been run on the device and at the Emperor’s last briefing it had been declared operable. Now staring up at it, he hoped that it was true. As he drew closer, Jamie tilted his head up to look at the roof of the cavern. Covered with a smooth layer of reinforced concrete, it had a convex, dome-like shape. At the center of the dome a large hole opened to a shaft leading directly to the surface where, Jamie knew, it terminated inside a small concrete structure that resembled a blockhouse. Small and squat, the building housed the second part of the device.
To the right of the machine, a collection of electronic equipment sat idle. Approaching it, Jamie paced back and forth, studying its design. After a few minutes he was satisfied that he’d found what he wanted and approached one of the consoles. Removing the com from his cloak pocket he repeated the procedure he’d performed in the library. Once he’d separated the com into its two parts he took a series of deep cleansing breaths as he began the process of calming and focusing his thoughts. A few minutes passed, and after a long period of concentration, a series of lights flashed across the control panel. As if in a trance Jamie held on to the com while he blankly stared into space. A short while later he emerged from his self-induced fugue. Closing the com, he resealed the device. He held it in his hand and for a few seconds studied it. When it stopped glowing, he returned the device to his inside cloak pocket.
Two of his five appointments were now finished: the first with Renaud, and the second with the device buried deep in the cavernous bowels of the Canon of the Angels, and both had gone as planned. Stepping away from the giant machine’s console, he winced as his mind turned to the third. It would be the hardest one of all, and he mentally cringed when he thought about it. He’d been putting it off, delaying the inevitable, but now with his courage at its apex, he knew it was time.
The last time he’d been in the underground cavern with Renaud he'd noticed, in addition to the machine, a gate. Turning away from the gigantic mechanical and electronic behemoth, he approached the gate. He stood directly before it and took a few moments to give it a thorough examination. It appeared operable. With Renaud gone, he’d be sorely pressed to continue if the gate wasn’t functional. Feeling a growing wave of tension and anticipation rise up inside, he couldn’t help himself from taking a deep, calming breath but he could feel both his hearts racing with fear. He was going to make a journey to Ghröum and face the one thing he dreaded more than anything else. Closing his eyes, he sighed. A part of him hoped that somehow there would be something to prevent him from using the gate, but he had a suspicion that the trip would be easy. It was the outcome of his journey that would be difficult to live with.
In the cavern that once served as Master Sakki’s home, Nic sat at the table he always used when studying his lessons. Resting on the tabletop was one of the large, blue, leather-bound volumes of the Pentabulon. Nic stared at the words. It had been the fifth time he’d read them that day, yet he found the exercise futile. His mind was focused on other, more pressing matters. The sound of movement coming from across the large open space of the cavern cost him his focus altogether. Looking up from his reading, he saw Miro and Julius beginning their descent into the cave. He watched them climb down the ladder and unhurriedly walk over to stand next to him.
“I don’t know why you study those bloody books,” Miro said, shaking his head in mock sadness. “You already know them by heart.”
“Sometimes I like to just read them,” Nic replied.
“Well, I hope you didn’t invite us here to study them with you.” The look on Miro’s face clearly conveyed his feelings.
“No, there’s something I wanted to tell you, both of you, and I’m going to need your help when the time comes.”
“Does this thing involve fighting?” Miro asked.
“It depends on what you call adventure,” Nic sighed. "If by adventure you mean quite possibly losing your life, then I guess you could call it adventure.”
“I’m in,” Miro grinned.
Julius rolled his eyes while scowling at Miro. “Will you ever learn? Fighting rarely solves anything. If you remember, Master Sakki...”
“Who said anything about solving anything?” Miro smiled. “Fighting is fun!”
“Then I expect that you might be having a lot of fun,” Nic said, giving his friend a sober look. “Now just sit down and let me tell you about what we need to do.”
Julius and Miro each grabbed a stool and approached the table. Miro made no attempt to wipe the smile from his face.
The strange yellow light in the caverns of the Ghröum gave Charlie’s face a ghostly pallor. But the grim and pained expression on the boy’s face had nothing to do with the ambient lighting. Jamie’s words had cut deeply into him and he was completely shocked that for the first time in his life, his older brother had caused him pain. And not some fleeting, physical pain that would in time heal and fade, but the searing stab of mental anguish.
“But why?” Charlie wailed as if he hadn’t heard or understood his brother.
“I’ve told you three times now, Charlie,” Jamie said, feeling every bit of the pain he’d visited upon his brother. “It’s become too important.”
“It’s unfair, Jam!” Charlie cried. “It’s mean, it’s cruel, and it’s unfair.”
“I know, Charlie.” Jamie winced, knowing his earlier words had become a knife plunging into his brother’s hearts. What made it worse was the fact that he was the wielder of that knife. “I’m not trying to hurt you, but it’s for a greater good.”
“And my good, and Giovanni’s good? They don’t count?”
“Of course they count.”
The conversation was so heart-wrenching that Jamie found himself shaking and lightheaded.
“NO!” Charlie cried out, reflexively stamping his foot like a petulant child. And then, for the first time in his life, he turned his back in anger on Jamie.
At that moment, Jamie wanted to die. He wanted the earth to open in a great chasm and swallow him whole. Once more his promises, his sense of duty was forcing him to perform another odious task; a task that now made him a monstrous instrument of sorrow and the breaker of Charlie’s heart.
Escaping from the frantic whirlwind of his plans and schedule, Jamie had journeyed to Ghröum to present Charlie and Giovanni with the one part of his scheme that he’d managed to hide from them. He’d known his mission wouldn’t be easy. In fact, he’d known it would probably be the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life. But he’d not expected it to hurt this much.
“If Nic and I don’t make it...”
“But you’re not separating, are you?” Charlie shouted, still keeping his back to Jamie. “You’re staying together. Apparently, it’s an option you’re not giving us.”
“It’s not like that,” Jamie tried to explain, now for the fourth time. “Charlie... please... I....” But then he stopped and became silent. Seconds passed and Jamie stared at the ground quietly listening to the beatings of his own hearts. Wiping the tears from his face, he began to nod. He felt terrible; except for Cristophe’s death, this was possibly the worst he’d ever felt.
“No Charlie, you’re right,” he said, his voice registering the sound of hopeless surrender. “There really isn’t anything I can say. I don’t think I even care anymore. Father died because of this; Cristophe died because of this, and so did Stephen, along with a lot of others. On top of it all, I know countless more will die before it's over. Now I’ve come here to hurt you, and all for what? I don’t even know anymore. I truly don’t know if I care anymore,” he repeated once again. "I’ve tried to devise a plan. It's probably crazy and next to impossible, but it’s the best I could do. Only I hadn't counted on all the people that would die because of it."
The abrupt change of tone in Jamie’s voice took his brother by surprise and Charlie turned around to find Jamie staring off into the distance.
“I don’t care if Alexander conquered half of the civilized world when he was just a boy in the ancient days of the home world. I don’t care if Paton Gius founded a dynasty and led an entire planet at eighteen. I don’t care if Enrick Blackwell began an empire at sixteen, or if Father created the first Icarian when he was still only seventeen. I’m just a boy, and I can’t do it. Not anymore. Not if it means pain and danger for everyone I love – especially you, Charlie.” Jamie raised and locked his eyes with Charlie's, refusing to look away.
“Your Grace,” the soft voice of Giovanni broke the silent tension between the two brothers. From the time of the ceremony before the Council, the boy had insisted on honoring Jamie’s courage with the honorific. “Your Grace, you mustn’t.”
Giovanni had been standing behind Charlie during the two brother’s exchange, his hands tenderly wrapped around Charlie’s waist. Releasing Charlie from his embrace and stepping from behind his pa’amore, he gently placed a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. Giovanni had also been crying, not only over Jamie’s request, but also because war had broken out between the two brothers, these two boys he loved above all else.
His soft lips now hovered close to one of the pointed ears of his pa’amore, Charlie could feel his mate’s soft warm breath. Then quickly and instinctively, out of the hurt and pain he was feeling, he wrapped an arm around Giovanni’s waist and pulled him closer.
“Charlie,” Giovanni began to speak in a whisper. “You know what he did for me. You know what he did for us. I told you about his kindness to Larrus, about the Kalorians at the school, how much they all love him and so much more. He even sacrificed...” Giovanni paused. “Well... you know all about that.... You can read each other’s thoughts. Please Charlie, read his thoughts now – for me. I don’t want to do this either. I hate the thought of it. But I think your brother hates it even more than both of us do. I can’t read his thoughts, but you can. So read them, study them. Please tell me if they’re true, or if its a deception. Please, Charlie... do it... for me?”
Charlie stood silently then turned and studied the face of his mate. For a few seconds the two boys eyes met and they were as one. Releasing his hold on Giovanni, Charlie stepped away, turned toward his brother and looked into Jamie’s eyes. Jamie dropped all his defenses, as he knew he must. The thoughts flew quickly, but while it only took seconds for Charlie to scan his brother’s mind, to Jamie it seemed like hours. When the connection was broken, both boys continued to stare at each other. Charlie, suddenly pale as a ghost, was as visibly shaken as Jamie.
“Now you know,” Jamie said softly, while staring down at his feet. “Now you know how much of a murderer I am. I’m sorry, Charlie.” Tears were streaming down his face. "This is what I’ve become, and why I don’t want to do it anymore.”
“No, Jam.” Charlie’s own voice had its own ragged edge to it. “I never realized. Oh Jamie, I’m so sorry. But you’re not a murderer. They did it of their own volition. You have to know that.”
“Then explain that to all their families, especially their children,” Jamie rejoined, making no attempt to hide the bitterness in his voice.
“What?” Giovanni asked. Seeing each boy’s anguish he wanted to go to both, but knowing he couldn’t, he reached out gripping Charlie’s hand instead. “What is it?”
“There’s a special suspension unit that’s been placed on Ajax in the crypt of the Hall of Heroes. It’s for me to use...”
Charlie stopped, unable to continue.
“And what of it?” Giovanni asked.
“Over one hundred Kalorians died to get it there safely and securely,” Jamie added, tears still streaming down his face. “And I murdered them all... all because of my stupid plan.”
“And just to save me,” Charlie added, his face growing even paler.
“You didn’t murder anyone, Your Grace,” Giovanni said. “And you're not responsible either,” Giovanni added squeezing Charlie’s hand. “This is the work of evil men. And if good men do nothing in the face of evil... then what?”
Charlie turned to his pa’amore and stared. The young throne’s words were powerful. Even more powerful was the sentiment behind them. Seconds later Charlie was hugging Giovanni, more for his own comfort than to show affection to his mate. “You're such an honor bound Royal Throne,” Charlie whispered into his Giovanni's ear. “I want to scream no to your logic, but I can’t because I think you’re right.”
“Then let him know,” Giovanni whispered back.
Breaking his embrace, Charlie went to Jamie and hugged him tightly. “I’m sorry, Jam,” he sniffed. “I won’t fight it, but I still hate it.”
“But now you know how much I hate it too, Charlie.”
“I do. It doesn’t really make it easier, but I do. I’m sorry for being so mean to you.”
“Don’t be. You love each other and I’m asking the impossible of you. I know how I’d feel if it were Nic and me.”
“You know I’m going to be looking for future compensation,” Charlie said, trying valiantly to smile through his tears, but without much success given the weight of what he’d just agreed to.
“I already counted on that,” Jamie nodded, quickly adding, “I know I’ll pay dearly. Just don’t pluck out all my feathers.”
“I’ll make no promises,” the faintest of smiles flickered briefly across Charlie’s face.
Preparing to leave, Jamie paused, and then turned to face his brother.
“Charlie, would you please take off your bracelet?” As he spoke, Jamie began uncurling his own beautiful asp bracelet from his forearm.
Puzzled by the request, Charlie did the same. Once it was off, Jamie reached out and took it while handing Charlie his own bracelet.
In their many conversations, Jamie had told Charlie about the book he’d created, based on The Screen. He’d also explained the Fulcarien amulet. As their fingers touched in the exchange, Charlie received his message.
“So one more way to remember?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried,” Jamie sighed, but the tension he exuded was palpable, ‘but I am. There are so many things I need to remember. So many promises to keep… so many lives…” his voice dropped to a whisper.
While he was speaking both of the brothers put on the bracelet that belonged to the other. Seconds after Charlie had slipped Jamie’s on he went to his older brother, wrapped his arms around him and hugged him once more. Nuzzled against Jamie’s neck, Charlie gave his brother a tender kiss on the cheek.
“I know you’ve made so many promises Jam, but would you make me one more? It’s not a difficult one.”
“For you, Charlie, anything.” Jamie’s arms were wrapped around his brother and he drew Charlie into an even closer embrace.
“When this is all over,” Charlie continued softly, “Can we go back to Ajax and fly in Angels Gorge? Just you and me?”
“You're right,” Jamie squeezed his brother tightly. “It isn’t a difficult request. Of course – nothing would make me happier.”
Finally convinced that some of the tension between himself, Charlie, and Giovanni had been resolved, Jamie reluctantly bid the two boys goodbye and retraced his steps to the mirror gate he’d passed through into Ghröum. Activating the gate, he rechecked his coordinates. Taking a deep breath. he passed through it and vanished. Seconds later the destination gate Jamie had chosen began to glow. The moment the arrival gate reached full power he emerged from the shimmering curtain of light, and was instantly greeted by a thunderous roar. Looking upward, he paused and stared at one of the great natural wonders of the planet soaring high above his head – Angel’s Fall.
The gigantic waterfall had been formed eons before, a consequence of a geological event on Altinestra of cataclysmic magnitude, when shifting and sliding in the tectonic plates of the planet’s lithosphere led to a series of massive earthquakes. The result was the creation of a great rift valley that stretched along the eastern slopes of the Greater Ortilles Range through Gideon’s Crescent and the Gorge of Pramm all the way to the southwestern section of the Almant Heart Range.
At the same time, close to a site that would later become the city of Tower Mount, the rift cut across the River Argus at a spot one hundred fifty miles from its source. As a result, the path of the river was interrupted at Angel’s Fall, whence it cascaded over the high cliff’s edge and dropped almost four thousand feet to the floor of the rift before it reformed to continue its southward flow.
Over two hundred feet wide, the deep and swift flowing Argus fell from a height so great that before reaching anywhere near the ground, some of its water, atomized by the strong winds that blew through the Almant Heart Range, turned into a mist that could be felt over a mile away.
Captivated by the spectacular sight rising high above him, Jamie had to remind himself of his true mission. Clearing his head, he moved away from the gate and turned his back on the great waterfall. Spinning around to look at the gate he’d come through, he confirmed that it was number six of the fifty gates standing silently in a single row that opened onto a large platform. Stepping off the platform, he stood on a coarsely graveled walk that served as a broad promenade.
The great quakes that had caused both the rift and Angel’s Fall had also changed the geological composition of the area. It had swallowed mountains, created chasms and dramatically altered the natural strata of the rock. Near this spot centuries before, almand stone, the real reason for the founding of the city of Tower Mount and the source of the city's great wealth, had been discovered.
An amazing material, almand stone was unique in its composition; nothing like it existed in the rest of the Commonwealth. That fact, combined with its strength and beauty, made the stone highly prized. And although Altinestra’s exports were almost entirely of a technological nature, almand stone was the planet’s one exception.
With a natural monopoly on the material, the Crown maintained tight-fisted control over it. The quarries at Tower Mount were all owned directly by House Blackwell. Other industries were allowed to subcontract, and there was enough money to spread around, but a disproportionate share of the profits went directly into the personal coffers of the Emperor. Although humans managed the quarries and handled the technical details of the operation, Kalorian slaves mined, cut, fabricated, polished and transported the rare product. It was the reason for the battery of mirror gates, through one of which Jamie had just transported.
Soon after its founding, Tower Mount became known as a place where fortunes could be made. Both the nobles and commoners who settled the city benefited. Imperial charters were highly prized, and those who’d been awarded them were more than happy to make any and all concessions to the crown. Although not a large city by design and imperial fiat, Tower Mount was nevertheless a rare jewel in the Imperial crown. The city boasted the finest craftsmen in the Empire along with posh shops, the best museums and a wealth of stately architecture. Some of the finest schools were there along with institutes for the arts, philosophy and science. Most important of all, the Imperial University of Tower Mount, the most prestigious university in the Empire, had been founded just outside the city. Tower Mount was a city of privilege. Wealth, style, culture and education abounded, all made possible by the stone that lay beneath the city's foundations.
Taking the wide path leading away from the mirror gate platform, Jamie walked onward until he came to a tall bluff that overlooked the site of the great quarries. To his right, off to the east, lay the foothills of the Almant Heart Range; to his left, where the great rift opened and as far west as he could see, lay the huge quarries devoted to the mining of almand stone. For a moment he stood silent, studying the scene stretching out to the horizon. Although the process of mining had scarred the land, somehow there was beauty in the great panorama: the hand of man clasping the hand of nature to create something truely unique.
Jamie walked a bit further and halted when the path ended before a series of large, industrial lifts. He was amazed at their size.
Every day, before dawn, Kalorian slaves from across the continent passed through gates outside the settlements they inhabited to arrive at one of the thirty he’d just come through. And although gate transport had been all but banned, the value of the stone combined with limited Kalorian immunity, and the fact that they were, after all, a slave population, allowed gate transport to the quarries to continue.
Heading down the path, the Kalorian workers would crowd into the large lifts that would drop them almost four thousand feet into the great rift. From there they would be taken to the quarries where they would toil until the end of the day, when they would return to their homes in the settlements.
The system worked well. The workers came, quarried the stone and then left. The beautiful city of Tower Mount remained isolated and unspoiled, kept pristine from the industrial effects of the mines and the unsavory atmosphere a resident slave population always brought with it. Even the falls had been protected. While the gates, lifts and quarries fell to the western side of the falls across the gorge, the eastern side was pristine forest. Visitors remaining on the eastern side never saw the quarries and wouldn’t even suspect that the mines existed unless they were either shown or told about them.
As Jamie stood quietly surveying the scene, his gaze moved from the lifts to the valley below. Off in the far distance was Tower Mount, a large pillar of stone that had given its name to the city a few miles away. Rising from the rift valley floor, like the remains of a ruined temple column it was all that remained of a mighty mountain that had been erased by the ancient earthquakes that had created the rift.
Had he not feared detection, Jamie would have been tempted to jump from the cliff and fly to the large flat-topped pillar, knowing the view from there would be even more spectacular. Instead, he stood and stared into the valley. After a few moments of searching, he saw what he’d been looking for: in the distance, a large complex stood isolated from the main road with gigantic blocks of freshly cut almond stone of various shapes, sizes and colors stacked around the site. Neatly organized, they looked like huge blocks of cheese ready for market. Jamie’s eyes focused with interest on the largest building that occupied the site, for he knew it housed the largest mirror gate ever constructed on the planet. It was the industrial version of the large gate in the basement of the opera house, and was used to transport large quantities of stone to production facilities and workshops off planet, on Argon.
For a few moments, he closed his eyes and concentrated. Would he have enough strength to do it? A second later his thoughts swept him back to Dragon’s Cove and his home of Villa Mare Vista. Sitting on the bench he always used when taking lessons with his father, he’d watched one day when a pensive Edmond Croal walked to the window near his desk. His father’s study had overlooked the tip of the cove, and on a sunny day the sea shimmered as the waves came crashing onto the shore. “…enough power to split a planet.” Jamie was sure those were his father’s exact words, but when he’d questioned the scientist, Croal'd brushed his son’s inquiry aside and insisted they get back to work.
I hope you're right, Father. Jamie continued to concentrate, reaching out to see just how much energy he could hold on to. I don’t need to split a planet, but I do need to get them all through.
“This is a restricted area,” a sharp voice from behind him barked.
Jamie jumped. Turning, he saw a Kalorian wearing the uniform of a quarry supervisor. Not all Kalorians were manual laborers, and more than a few had been given oversight responsibility. It was felt that low-level foreman who were of the same race as the workers could handle their own kind far easier than human supervisors. It saved human labor, and eliminated a few of the tensions human foremen sometimes created.
“Sorry, I must have...” caught off guard, he stammered while trying to regain his composure. “I must have taken...”
“I know why you’re here,” the Kalorian interrupted, his voice dropping in volume. “Everything will be ready when the time comes.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jamie replied.
“I’m sure you don’t.” The Kalorian gave Jamie a half smile. “Nevertheless, Garon a’ Kalasia, you can rest assured we’ll be prepared for you.”
Jamie shot the man a questioning look, but did not speak.
“Is there something in particular you’re interested in?”
Jamie continued to remain silent, still unsure if the man was truly a friend or a possible foe. His mind raced as he did a quick scan of the Kalorian foreman’s thoughts.
“How many can pass through here?”
“Quite a few.” And just as Jamie was appraising the Kalorian, he could see the foreman doing the same to him. “Enough to run the mines on a daily basis.”
Jamie simply nodded. Sensing the man was going to warn him of the restrictions once more, he began to walk up the path. “I should be going.”
The Kalorian foreman returned Jamie’s nod.
Once back at the gate he started the activation process. After making sure the coordinates would take him to the gate in the basement of the opera house, he took a step forward.
“My name is Enoch, Protector,” the Kalorian called out as Jamie prepared to enter the gate. “We’ll be waiting for you,” he repeated as Jamie disappeared through the shimmering curtain of light.
Jamie emerged from the gate into the bowels of the opera house. Making his way through the quiet maze of tunnels, stairwells and halls, he began to pass the doors of the Petite Forum, but even through the unopened doors, he could hear the beautiful voice of Damian floating from the room.
Entering the Forum, he walked toward the stage and looked up to see Damian practicing. As he’d promised Jamie, Damian was alone: except for the singer, the Petite Forum was deserted. When he saw Jamie enter the Forum, Damian ceased his practice and beamed a smile of welcome. After the day he'd had, Jamie was feeling raw, and Damian's smile was a welcome gift. Giving a gentle stroke of his wings, the singer drifted down from the stage. By the time he feet touched the floor, Jamie was standing in front of him. With an effort of will, he stopped himself from hugging his friend for comfort.
“Here,” Jamie said thrusting the asp bracelet he’d exchanged with Charlie at Damian. He'd unwound it as he’d approached the singer.
Though he and Damian had already discussed Jamie’s plan, still the taller boy looked down at the prince, giving him a questioning look.
“What do you want me to do with it?” Damian turned the beautiful piece of jewelry over and over in his hands.
“That’s up to you,” Jamie said. “As I told you, it’s just one more thing to help me remember. It’s probably best I don’t know what you do with it. There have to be some secrets and safe guards in case any of us are caught. I can’t reveal something I don’t know." Jamie shuddered when the image of the tortured Cristophe briefly flashed in his mind.
“I’ll take care of it,” Damian assured Jamie.
Then, just as quickly as he’d arrived, Jamie turned and left the room, retracing his path back to the basement of the opera house and its mirror gate. There was one final stop to make that, although not critical to the rebellion, was an absolute necessity for his soul.
A soft thrum suddenly sounded in the large cavern, and Nic turned toward the sound as did his friends, Miro and Julius. A moment later the gate began to glow and shimmer. Getting up from his seat, Nic approached and curiously stared at the glowing gate. There was a brief ripple in the shimmering curtain of light and as he blinked in surprise, Jamie emerged from the gate. The two boys stood and faced each other.
Then without a second’s hesitation, Jamie stepped up to Nic, wrapped his arms around the Gahdar and laid his face on Nic’s chest. Nic, still surprised to see his mate, happily returned Jamie’s hug. Looking up, Jamie stared deeply into Nic’s eyes; his chin began to tremble as the effects of the day caught up with him and tears glinted at his lower lids. He raised his face to his pa’amore, and in an instant they were kissing, deep, long and passionately. Nothing was said as the kiss continued and Nic drew Jamie even closer.
“I think we’ll leave now,” Julius called out as he and Miro moved to exit the alcove. “We’ll see you back at the barracks, Niklas.”
“I don’t think they hear you, Jules,” Miro chuckled as he glanced back at the two boys still locked in an intimate embrace.