The dead woman walked toward her former captor and lover. The Rixwoman was in for a disappointment, Hobbes thought. The honored dead never held fast to the emotional bonds of their former lives. The transition of the symbiant left them altogether indifferent to the prattle of the living. Hobbes had encountered many of her dead shipmates after their reanimation; they were no longer friends, or even crewmates. Just passengers.

But Rana Harter looked tenderly at the Rixwoman, and smiled.

The expression startled Hobbes; it looked exaggerated on that cold, gray face, like a clown's painted joy. The dead woman embraced Herd, wrapping her arms around the hypercarbon straight-jacket, and the two kissed as unselfconsciously as adolescents on a Utopian world. The captain and Hobbes just watched, too surprised and respectful of the dead to interrupt.

Finally they separated, pulling apart to gaze into each other's eyes.

"Rana," murmured Herd quietly.

The dead woman spoke in return. Hobbes recognized the buzzing syllables of Rix battle language in her speech.

"Preserve us," she murmured. A risen woman, one of the honored dead of the Empire, speaking Rix. What had Rana Harter become?

"Herd," Captain Zai said in a level voice. "I've come for information."

The commando kissed Rana Harter once more before answering, and whispered at the edge of Hobbes's hearing, "Your lips are as cold as mine now." Katherie swallowed, wondering again if this was a dream.

Herd turned from her lover and looked at Captain Zai.

"So you want to hear the Emperor's Secret now?"

He nodded, then said, "I will hear it," with the measured formality of an oath in military court.

Herd cocked her head, as if listening to some internal voice. Then she smiled, a predatory expression that chilled Hobbes's soul.

"It will not make you happy, Vadan."

Zai met her gaze without flinching. He reached back and pulled the door shut behind them. With the heavy metal in place, even the inescapable hum of the ship was silenced.

They were absolutely cut off from the rest of the Lynx now.

"Tell us," Zai said.

The Rixwoman took a breath, then she began.

"Your Empress was killed not by us, but by the Apparatus."

"Of course," whispered Hobbes to herself. The records of the battle had suggested as much. The Emperor was a murderer.

"But that fact is not the secret that concerns you, Zai," Herd added. "Alexander was inside the Empress before she died, through the agency of a machine that was within her body."

"The confidant," Captain Zai said.

"Exactly. Alexander took control of this machine, like every other on Legis, and could see inside the Empress. Alexander saw something."

As the commando went on, her flat voice became almost singsong, as if she were telling a children's tale. She leaned her head against Rana Harter's shoulder, and the dead woman stroked Herd's bound arms.

The story took fifteen slow minutes.

Hobbes had known that her bond to the gray world was broken-- by the false Error of Blood, by the Lynx's travails, and now finally by Zai's inescapable treasons--but the Rixwoman's words were something altogether different. They left her captain retching on the floor, unraveled centuries of the history she had been taught, and tore Hobbes's last convictions from her like a swallowed hook dragged from a fish's gut.

And after that, everything was different.


Awaiting the closure of the Emperor's trap, Nara Oxham was very careful.

She knew instinctively that it was only a matter of time before the Apparatus uncovered her communication with Zai. Perhaps they already had, and were merely waiting for an opportune moment to move against her. After a few nervous nights at home, she decided to sleep in her office, remaining within the safety of the Rubicon Pale. As a rule, a senator could not disappear suddenly without explanation, but a case of wartime treason might convince the Apparatus that it could make an exception.

When the trap closed, it did so quickly.

The news swept through the capital's infostructure quickly, a fire rampant in pure oxygen. It started as a newsfeed rumor, well traveled but patently incredible. Then supporting evidence was released: images of Oxham and Zai meeting at the Emperor's party ten years ago; the repeater path of her first message to him; a time line of the War Council's agenda, the debates for which the hundred-year rule had been invoked covered with a broad swath of black. And finally her voice, dictating the first few words of her warning to Zai--this last synthesized for dramatic effect.

Across the wee hours of morning, the treason of Senator Nara Oxham moved from the back pages of gossips and conspiracy theorists to blaring headlines crawling the periphery of every channel of second sight.

The newsfeeds were forbidden even to speculate about what secrets the Senator had revealed to her warrior lover, but the hundred-year rule itself bore the weight of proof: This young and headstrong senator had betrayed the Emperor's trust.

The morning that the story broke, the psychic frenzy itself awoke her, the growing fury of the city bleeding into her head like a wake-up alarm invading a sleeper's dreams. For a moment of unprotected madness, Nara could see the bloated body of the capital convulsing, the beached whale shaking off carrion birds with some grotesque, after-death spasm. And before wheeling back to feast on the war economy, the scavengers swirled toward a new target.

The treasonous senator: live prey.

The empathic vision waned in power. Senator Oxham could feel her own body, and a hand at her wrist: someone adjusting her apathy bracelet. She opened her eyes, furious at this presumption. It was a grim-faced Roger Niles kneeling next to her.

She blinked once.

The dose was strong, and Oxham's mind became coherent in seconds. She instantly understood what had happened; she'd been expecting it. This was the trap the Emperor had set. She had walked into it full knowing.

"What have you done, Nara?" Niles asked.

Oxham put both hands to her face, rubbing it to confirm the reality of her body. She pulled herself up into a seated position. Her back ached in the particular way that always resulted from sleeping on her office couch.

"1 can't tell you much about it, Roger. The hundred-year rule."

He scowled. "Now you want to obey the law?"

"I had to tell Laurent what the Emperor planned. I knew they'd catch me, but I had to save him. That's all I can say."

"They're calling for your blood, Nara."

"I know, Roger. I can hear them."

She gestured to bring up second sight. Synesthesia confirmed what Roger Niles and empathy had told her. The story choked every news-feed. She flipped across a few channels: her voice and picture, the text of a useless Apparatus warrant for her arrest, a Loyalist spokesperson demanding her expulsion from the Senate.

Expulsion was the crux of the matter, she realized. Stripped of senatorial privilege, Nara Oxham would be just another citizen. Just another traitor with no Pale to protect her.

"I warned you, Nara. Why didn't you listen?"

"Can they throw me out, Roger?"

"Of the Senate? There's precedent, but it hasn't been done for a hundred and fifty years." "What was the reason back then?"

Niles blinked, his fingers twitching. "Murder. A Utopian killed her lover. Strangled him in bed."

Oxham smiled wanly. She, at least, had broken the law to save a lover, not kill one.

"That's far more dramatic," she said.

"But it wasn't even a crime against the state," Niles said. "'Conduct unbecoming' was the phrase employed in the writ of expulsion. A lesser charge than treason, I dare say."

"How long did it take?" she asked.

"Forty-seven days. They held a trial before the full Senate. Witnesses, defense counsel, even a psychologist."

"And then they expelled her."

Niles nodded. "And with her privilege gone, a civilian court found her guilty of murder in a second trial. Loss of elevation, life internment."

"Better than exsanguination."

"God, Nara," Niles said, his voice breaking. "Did you actually do it? Reveal War Council secrets to Zai?"

"I did. To save him."

"There must be an exception for military exigency."

She shook her head. "There's no way out of it, Roger. It was pure treason: my lover over my sovereign. I made a choice."

Niles was silent for a moment, going into a data fugue. He stood over her, hands flexing as he tried to discover some exception to the hundred-year rule, his entire body flinching with the effort. He looked like a handeye gamer trying to escape some virtual maze, his face showing frustration at every roadblock and dead end.

Nara drifted back into second-sight newsfeeds. One showed a crowd gathered at the edge of the Pale, a Loyalist mob demanding that Oxham abdicate her privilege immediately and face a Court Imperial. Now that she was its target, the Loyalists' wonted righteous anger seemed less comical. On another feed was the Secularist Party whip, a young man who had replaced her after she'd been promoted to the War Council. He was calling for calm, stalling, trying to slow down the pace of events without appearing to support rank treason. She didn't envy him the job.

In the midst of this maelstrom, Nara felt oddly peaceful. The usual players of political drama--the political parties, the Apparatus's propaganda machine, the newsfeed hacks--had jumped into motion in the usual way, jostling for advantage, working damage control. She could feel the shifting ground in this contest for power, the tug of every carefully chosen word, every deliberately sculpted reading of Imperial law and Senate tradition. But at the center of this chaos was one immovable point: the Tightness of her own choice.

Nara Oxham felt purified by treason. After all her compromises, she had finally done something for a simple, unalloyed reason, no matter what the cost.

"I'm free, Roger."

His eyes snapped open. "What?"

"We can't fight the Emperor with pragmatism forever."

Niles shook his head hard; a few gray hairs jutted out as a result. His features seemed to be aging by the minute.

"This was not the time, Nara. There's a war on."

She understood his point. The Emperor was always at the peak of his power when defending the realm. But the argument cut both ways; at its peak was when power was most often abused.

"I'm going to tell the whole Risen Empire what I told Zai," she said. "The Emperor's plans for Legis."

Niles looked down at her in despair.

"They'll kill you," he whispered.

"Let them."

"Use whatever you know as leverage to bargain your way out."

She shook her head. There would be no escape for her, the Emperor would make sure of that.

"Nara, they'll drain your blood out, drop by drop."

"Not before I turn a generation against him." Niles swallowed. He was still looking, she knew, for a way out of this. Senator Oxham suddenly saw her old counselor's greatest limitation. However pure his hatred for the dead, Niles had always fought them cautiously, slowly laying his plans against them. He had no taste for drama.

"How old are you, Roger?"

"Damn old," he said. "Old enough to know how to stay alive."

"That's your problem. War requires sacrifice, sometimes."

"You're talking about suicide, Nara."

She nodded. "That's correct, Roger. A just and well-considered suicide."

Her counselor sat down next to her, deflated. She was shocked to see tears on his face.

"I spent three decades bringing you here, Senator," he said, and sobbed once.

"I know."

"And this is how you repay me?"

After a moment's silence, she knew the answer. "Yes. Absolutely."

They were quiet for a while. Oxham shut off her second sight, quenching the flow of opinion and grandstanding, the headlong rush to committees, hearings, and judgement, all the unwieldy maneuvers of a legislature turning on one of its own. The rising sun lanced into the crystals that had been carefully moved here from Niles's old office. Like a tree of tiny mirrors, they dappled the walls with a glimmering pattern.

Nara Oxham listened to Niles's labored breathing, and wished she could spare him this. She still needed his counsel. She hoped he wouldn't give up on her.

As if hearing her thoughts, the old man spread his hands and said, "What do you want me to do, Senator?"

She took hold of his arm.

"Delay them for a while. Then agree to a trial. No witnesses to testify for me except myself. With the broadest possible public newsfeed."

He frowned, concentration replacing despair on his face.

"They'll try to silence you, Senator. Secrets of the Realm." "They can't sequester the whole Senate, Roger. And no lesser body can vote to expel me."

His eyes narrowed. Now that his mind had something to chew on, a sparkle grew in them.

"I suppose not, Senator."

"And I have the right to speak at my own trial."

He nodded. "Of course. Even the hundred-year rule doesn't stand against privilege. They can't truly silence you until after the Senate has expelled you officially."

"Now that I've chosen death, my options multiply," she said.

Nara considered her own words. She could appear at the edge of the Pale right now and address the hovering cameras of the news-feeds, telling them what the Emperor had planned to do on Legis. But the newsfeeds would be bound by the hundred-year rule. Her only shot at revealing the sovereign's plan would be before the Senate.

"I'll wait for the trial to say my piece, when the whole Empire is watching."

"The Apparatus will bury your words."

Nara looked at Niles, and nodded. "Then we'll have to devise a backup plan. A way to publicize the speech if I'm silenced. Something a bit illegal, like we used to spread rumors back on Vasthold."

"It won't be so easy here on Home. The networks are all Apparatus controlled."

She thought for a moment. "I think I know a way to get around the Apparatus. Something I've been saving for a rainy day."

Niles looked puzzled, then a forced smile broke through the heavy cast of his features. "Well, at least I've drummed some little bit of pragmatism into you, Senator."

"Tactics, Niles," she corrected. "Let them hear me, and the Emperor will wish he'd died the true death a thousand years ago."

Adept "I need to send a message," Zai repeated.

Adept Harper Trevim looked at him, trying to pull her mind into the frantic, empty time of the living. It was so much easier to stare at the walls. Even the flat gray of hypercarbon, so bland compared to sensuous black, was rich and compelling here in the fugue of ongoing reanimation.

Trevim's symbiant still labored to bring her back to full animation. Her new heart was not yet whole; the supple cells of the Other were doing much of the work, filling in for the tricuspid and mitral valves. Zai's attack had not damaged her brain, but her lungs and spine had been torn mercilessly by his flechettes.

The adept was barely alive. When she closed her eyes, the darkness behind them was lit by the red horizon, that first sight of the risen.

Trevim forced herself to look at the man, and through the haze of her fugue she managed to scowl at Zai.

"Leave me alone, Captain. You shoot my heart out, and then expect me to commit treason to repay you?"

"The only treason here is the Emperor's," Zai said.

The words caused a start from Trevim, bringing the living world into sudden focus.

"Blasphemy," she spat. "You'll suffer for this, Zai. The tortures you felt on Dhantu will be nothing compared to the Emperor's revenge."

"Adept, I need to send a message. Only you can authorize it." Zai spoke as if to an unruly child, repeating his demand with the calm insistence of the rational adult.

"Your crew will join you in your agonies, Zai," she said.

Anger crossed his face, and Trevim felt distant amusement. He dared to treat an adept of the Apparatus, who had lived four hundred subjective years, as a child? Even if Zai destroyed her, gave her final darkness, she was one of the honored dead. She would not be frightened or manipulated.

His crew. That was Zai's weakness. He had dragged them all into this mutiny with him.

"The Apparatus will pull them to pieces, Zai. One by one, before your eyes and their families'. Traitors all."

The man took a deep breath, then cocked his head and smiled softly. "I know the Emperor's Secret."

A jolt passed through Trevim. Revulsion clenched every muscle in her body. She shook her head reflexively. Zai didn't know. He simply couldn't. The Secret was too tightly bound within the world of the Apparatus; an uninitiated man--and a living one--could never have discovered it.

"No," the adept managed.

"The Rix prisoner explained it to me."

The words sent another shock through Trevim, a violent seizure that threatened the functioning of her half-repaired heart. A wash of physical, biological pain, something she hadn't felt in decades, coursed down her left arm.

Trevim whimpered a little. The Other tried to calm her, but the Apparatus conditioning was an implacable force, a hurricane that raged inside her very cells. These reactions had been laid down like mineral strata over centuries of service to the crown, the ultimate stopgap to prevent a member of the Apparatus from revealing the Secret.

But now the pain was being used against her.

Trevim swallowed, and forced herself to believe her next words.

"You are bluffing, Zai. You know nothing."

"The dead are dying, Adept Trevim."

"Silence!" she shrieked, her vision disintegrating into a cloud of red. She felt a hideous movement inside. For a moment, the Other seemed to retreat from her, its tendrils shrinking from the violent reaction.

Adept Trevim understood vaguely the raw science behind the miracle of the symbiant. The Other's ability to heal and sustain required absolute acquiescence from the body. The calm remove of the honored dead was a means to keep the body and mind from rejecting the life-sustaining ministrations of the symbiant. The tranquillity of the immortals was not merely a spiritual benefit; it was a necessary state. But Trevim's Apparatus conditioning warred with her deathly calm, threatening the mesh of body and Other.

Zai's words could literally tear her in half.

"Silence," she pleaded, gasping. "Just relinquish the writ, Trevim. Release the writ that binds the communications grid."

An action icon hovered before Trevim in second sight. All she had to do was make the sign, and Zai would have his access. He could send a message to Home.

An act of treason.

"No," Trevim said.

"The dead are dying, Adept. Since the beginning."

The pain screamed through her again. And worse than the physical agony was the feeling of the Other pulling away, shying from her body's convulsions. Her heart shuddered, almost failing in her chest.

"You're killing me, Zai."

"Die, then," the man said.

He went on, calmly detailing what the Rix had revealed to him.

Adept Trevim fought to control herself, to withstand the pain, to resist the pleas of the Other to return things to calm. Once, she saw her hand reach out, about to make the gestural sign that would give Zai what he wanted. But she managed to hold herself back. Then his words continued, and the wrenching punishment of the war inside her resumed.

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