The Friendly Ambassador: Walking with the Enemy by David George Richards by David George Richards - Read Online

About

Summary

As the end approaches, Li-Sen-Tot remembers his time on this once peaceful world and the people he had come to know so well. Those memories tug at his bitter heart, but his loss is too much to bear. For the Androktones and the Seventy-Ninth of the Telen'Gal, the final reckoning brings the final solution to the turmoil that has dominated their thoughts in equal power. For Anaxilea, it is a final peace for her troubled conscience. And with the Gate of Heaven safe, it is time for Tai-Gil and Ann-Ra to leave. And when the war is finally over, the aftershocks continue. Victory is hollow for Ares and the Atlantians as they head for Troy and a life in exile. The Klysanthians also face an uncertain future, and Peleus must decide whether that future is the one that he will share. Prophecies and legends entwine, and in the end only one thing is certain: Nothing will ever be the same again.

Published: David George Richards on
ISBN: 9781465979070
List price: $2.99
Availability for The Friendly Ambassador: Walking with the Enemy
With a 30 day free trial you can read online for free
  1. This book can be read on up to 6 mobile devices.

Reviews

Book Preview

The Friendly Ambassador - David George Richards

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1

Prologue

The Beginning of the End

The Keruh needed food to feed their Hives. They were an ancient race, one bred from generations of war between the multitudes of Hives that once existed on their world. For them, victory meant food and life, while defeat brought death and extinction. But their world had grown too small, its resources drained, and the number of Hives had dwindled. Necessity had forged the surviving Hives into a truce, a truce that became a unification when the Tun-Sho-Lok brought them access to the Ring, a four-dimensional transport system that spanned the galaxy. Now through the Ring Network Portals, the combined Keruh Host could descend on any world, consuming everything in their path. The first world they attack is Lokana, the home of the Tun-Sho-Lok, and a devastating war begins.

The Tun-Sho-Lok plea to those attached to the Ring for help in the war, but only the Atlantians and the Matriarchal Klysanthians respond. At first the war goes badly for the Alliance, but at Ephesus, the Tun-Sho-Lok scientist, Kel-Cid-An, creates a genetic masterpiece, the perfect warrior. General Ares names them man-killers: Androktones. And with their ability to split their form into master and drone, a drone that can grow into immense form, the war begins to turn, and on the peaceful planet of Eden the final battle begins.

Gusta and Didi Albatus worked in the Tun-Sho-Lok Embassy. As private secretary to Li-Sen-Tot, the Tun-Sho-Lok Ambassador on Eden, Gusta had known how badly the war was going. She and her husband had planned to flee from Jutlam City with their children, Breda and Tipi. But they are apart when the Keruh break their treaty with the Edenite Government and attack. In the unimaginable savagery that follows, Gusta and Didi search for their children but are caught up in the mass evacuation from the city. Breda and Tipi are also caught in the same evacuation, but when the Keruh cut the road, escape seems impossible for all of them.

Chance brings both children into the care of the Klysanthians. Tipi carries two of them to safety aboard a lone surviving Klysanthian battle cruiser called the Gate of Heaven, but Breda is not so fortunate. She is with Anaxilea, the Matriarch of the House of Charity. Her ship has been shot down, and only she and a pitiful few have survived. They find more Edenites who are lost after the evacuation, but their freedom is short-lived as they are hunted down and captured by the Keruh.

The Keruh Warrior, the Seventy-Ninth of the Telen'Gal, needs his prisoners alive so that they can answer the questions of his Dominant at Nemen. So until then he must keep them safe, so he gives his word that they will not be harmed.

General Orbanta is the surviving leader of the Edenite Government. He knows that only a nuclear response will stop the Keruh. But with the evacuation failing, the detonation will catch many of the civilians in the blast. But even this desperate measure fails to stop the Keruh.

Gusta and Didi join up with other survivors in the care of a team of Edenite soldiers led by a Corporal. But although safe from the nuclear blast in the underground tunnels of the rapid transit system, they are soon confronted by a drone of one of the Androktones called El-Quan. Death should have struck instantly, but because Gusta and Didi worked at the Embassy and their DNA is registered, they have diplomatic immunity, so El-Quan agrees to take them to safety. Gusta compounds the problem of Embassy status by extending the protection to all the civilians and soldiers with them. El-Quan has no choice but to lead them all to safety.

Aboard the Gate of Heaven, Tipi is a rewarded by one of the Klysanthians he has rescued. It is an act that has serious consequences as the ship speeds away from the centre of the nuclear detonation. Tipi is far too large for the slight Klysanthian who has befriended him. With her lying wounded in the sick bay as a result, Tipi is at first treated as a criminal, before Heli, the ship’s preacher and First Officer takes his side and persuades Scyleia, the Captain and Matriarch of the House of Heaven, that his predicament wasn’t his entire fault. Heli teaches Tipi about Christianity as the ship flies to Jutlam City.

Li-Sen-Tot moves from the embassy to the Edenite Ring Network Portal building where he assumes control of the Androktone forces. He learns of the presence of his previous staff members in the underground tunnels at the same time as he is contacted by Scyleia. He grants her landing rights in a safe part of the city and Androktones are sent to guard the ship. Mai-Ann, the most senior Androktone who accompanies him at all times, questions his decision, but he advises her that this is the best solution to Embassy status as it will allow the Edenites in the tunnel to board the Klysanthian ship and they can be rid of them.

In space, Aeolus on the Prometheus becomes separated from the main Atlantian fleet during the battle for supremacy with the Keruh, and he is told to take command of the remaining Klysanthian ships at Eden. This isn’t so easy as the female captains are not used to being commanded by a man. The most senior and stubborn captain is Pantariste on the Queen of Angels, and she and Aeolus bicker and argue constantly as they continue the fight against the Keruh. When Lysippe is sent aboard the Prometheus to improve relations, Aeolus’s First Officer, Peleus is instantly smitten. The feeling is mutual and a love affair begins.

Breda and the captured Klysanthians are on their way to Nemen for interrogation when Lupili, one of the Edenites who has been captured, tries to escape. And in the ensuing confusion, the Seventy-Ninth of the Telen’Gal, is wounded. The irony of this is not lost on him or on Anaxilea, who drives the point home. "Your fate is now the same as ours. When we reach Nemen you will be cast into the jaws of a Receiver before us, as we must be questioned. This is all you are worth now. Food for the hives."

As the Seventy-Ninth of the Telen’Gal lies on the truck with his captives for the rest of the journey, he knows that this is the truth. It is a fate he understands and accepts, but secretly fears. And being with these other aliens makes him curious and the time with them allows him to associate and learn.

El-Quan is also learning through association with the Edenites. And when another even bigger drone, Yan-Jai attacks, she fights with words as well as weapons, finally making a bargain with the larger drone. In exchange for safe passage for her charges, she agrees to retrieve Yan-Jai’s other self –her human form– from the Ring Network Building.

The surviving ships of the Keruh Fleet are finally destroyed and only the Flagship makes it through the Eden Defence Net. But the losses are heavy on both sides, and even the Prometheus is lost. As the ship breaks up, all dash to escape, and Lysippe and Peleus find themselves alone and adrift together in one of the escape pods.

At Atlantis, President Aegina orders an evacuation. This has been brought on by the fear of a reprisal should their fleet lose at Eden, and also by dreams of impending doom.

As they approach Nemen, Breda and the other prisoners of the Keruh are rescued by Androktones who have got into the Keruh tunnels. The tables are turned as they are freed and the Seventy-Ninth of the Telen’Gal becomes their prisoner. But although Anaxilea urges the Androktones to kill the wounded warrior, Breda commands them not to, for like her mother and father, she too has Embassy status. So the Seventy-Ninth survives and is rescued with them.

In Jutlam City, El-Quan completes her bargain with Yan-Jai and also sheds her own bulk to the larger drone so that she can go aboard the Klysanthian ship. But getting the Edenites aboard the Gate of Heaven is not easy, for when Breda arrives to board the ship she still insists on taking the Keruh Warrior with her, while Scyleia refuses to allow him to enter. El-Quan tries to bargain with Scyleia and is aided in this task by another Androktone, Tai-Gil. When Scyleia learns that Tai-Gil was on Klysanthia on the day it fell to the Keruh, she develops an unbreakable fixation for her and is determined to save her and the other Androktones. But while Gusta, Didi, Kiki, Breda and Tipi are finally re-united as they and all the Edenite soldiers and refugees with them are finally taken on board the Klysanthian ship, the Androktones remain outside. At that moment the lone Keruh Flagship destroys the Edenite Ring Network Portal and a counter attack begins.

Li-Sen-Tot has anticipated the attack and has already returned to the Embassy and the use of his private portal. As a member of the Humeric Council, he is far from a passive observer. Each move in the war has been pre-planned and carefully prepared for, even the moment when former allies are to be betrayed. Mai-Ann is despatched to plant a nuclear device at the Atlantian main power reactor. But the evacuation of Atlantis ordered by President Aegina means that only the island is destroyed in the legendary blast. Homeless, the Atlantians face a future as refugees in a harsh and barbaric world that they had once ruled. And the Klysanthians among them have their own ambitions for the future.

El-Quan, Tai-Gil, and Ann-Ra have lived and known only that they must follow the Purpose; that they must kill anything that does not match the genetic code they have been given as a benchmark. It means that having to stay close to the Edenites and Klysanthians is at first offensive and disgusting to them. But it is also extremely interesting. When they are forced to enter the Gate of Heaven to escape from overwhelming Keruh forces, they soon begin to question their own genetic and mental integrity, and violence quickly ensues.

Scyleia’s fixation for Tai-Gil grows into love. It is a love that is soon reciprocated by Tai-Gil. But both know that it can’t last. Ann-Ra develops a fixation for God learned from Heli, the ships preacher. This new belief opposes the Purpose, but she no longer cares. And El-Quan no longer trusts her own instincts about what is correct or incorrect.

The Seventy-Ninth of the Telen’Gal has also managed to get aboard the Klysanthian ship. His wound is repaired and the escape from death revitalises his mind. So while the Androktones are confused, he seeks to benefit from the situation by proposing an armistice. It is a request that is quickly and surprisingly denied. And as he has given his word to be a non-combatant, his future becomes the same as that of all the others aboard the ship.

As the Gate of Heaven flies towards Hilbrok in the mountains, Kreousa, the ship’s doctor, realises the dangers that they all now face. Soon the doubts and uncertainties that exist in the minds of the Androktones trapped aboard with them will be resolved. And Kreousa knows that when that final resolution occurs, all the associations and beliefs that the Androktones have made and absorbed during their stay aboard the Gate of Heaven will quickly fade away…

Read The Beginning of the End, A Gathering of Angels, and Changes, the first three parts of The Friendly Ambassador.

Chapter One

Dreams

In her mind she could still see the sun dipping below the sea. The bright reflections on the water were fascinating. She always stopped to watch it. No matter where she was in the laboratory complex she would always find her way up to ground level as dusk approached. She had to reach a window. She had to see it. But she never let anyone know about her craving.

What would they have done had they known? Was she defective in some way because of it? Would her sisters have questioned her integrity? Would the Tun-Sho-Lok geneticists have terminated her existence?

She didn’t know the answers to any of these questions, as she was always careful to hide her twilight activities. In a way she sensed that there was something not quite right about her compulsion. There was no profit in it for the Purpose. But there was also no loss. And it was such a marvellous sight.

The sun would be at its largest, and the brightness and rippling distortion at the horizon as the blood red orb descended into the sea was so interesting. Clouds often added to the mixture, but they were thin and almost of no consequence.

Was this ‘beautiful’?

The Atlantians spoke often about ‘beautiful’. One had even used the term to describe her. She knew it was a favourable descriptive term and that it meant that her appearance was above average when compared to others. But she had also heard the same Atlantian use the word with other clones. So who was above average?

She remembered the Atlantian. He had wanted her. He had wanted her and he had sought her out after the exercise period. She had been on her way to the showers. He seemed to like the heated condition brought on by her exertions. She had accepted him, knowing that it would only be a brief liaison, knowing that he was incorrect, and knowing that he would be gone in search of others by the morrow. But she took his seed anyway.

He was another fleeting memory as the time with him was fleeting. It was the first and only time she had lain with a male. It had been interesting. Copulation had been achieved easily, and the six offspring she produced had grown tall and strong. They were perfect.

Was ‘perfect’ the same as ‘beautiful? Was ‘beautiful’ the same as ‘perfect’? Did they mean the same or were they different? Could you be one without the other?

The sun going down must be beautiful, the feel of the male inside her when she reached her peak was beautiful, and her six offspring were beautiful as they stood before her proudly. She could see them all in her mind, her offspring, the Atlantian, the sun going down, each memory swapping and alternating with the others. But which was perfect?

She had been born and had grown up. She had a talent for fighting that was equalled by all of her sisters. She was the same as them but different. She could see them all. Dark hair, blonde, brown, some short, some long. Eyes of blue and green, brown and black. But all stood the same height with the same physique and the same need. She was them, and they were her. But she was different.

She was her, herself, me. She was aware of being alive and of being another. They were them; she was her. But they were the same.

Clones. Perfect.

It meant that they were different from the Atlantians. They were different also from the Tun-Sho-Lok. She could see them now, their small figures with baldheads almost like those of her immature offspring. The images mingled in her mind with that of the Atlantian and the sun, blood red, dipping into the sea.

The Tun-Sho-Lok were correct. But they were not the same.

Was ‘correct’ the same as ‘beautiful’? Was ‘correct’ the same as ‘perfect’?

All these thoughts circulated in her mind as she lay within herself, dreaming. How long had it been since she was whole? How long had it been since she had breathed and felt the rush of air in her lungs as herself? How many suns had sank into blue seas while she slept?

How many had she killed?

Those who were incorrect flittered into her mind bathed in green. They were always accompanied by pain. And the images were always the images of death.

These images of death dominated her dreams and thoughts as often as did all the other images. They all swapped and mixed together into a constantly changing collage: Smashed and dead bodies, the black blood of the incorrect, the red blood of her fallen sisters, the Atlantian on top of her, her own red splash at her first opening, the birth of her offspring, blood on their faces, and finally, always, the blood red sun going down.

Blood red.

But the images of blood and death were almost comforting. Here was a subject she was sure of. Those who were incorrect were imperfect. They were not beautiful.

She remembered the battles, every one of them. Here the memories were clear and distinct. They gave her detailed images of hard violence. She could almost feel them as well as see them. Blood, dismembered limbs, the smell of death and the heat of the energy bolts. She burned them as often as she sliced them. Blowing them apart with her energy bolts was pleasing but quick. She preferred the close and visceral use of her blades. She wanted to taste their death. She wanted to read their bodies and feel the changes within them at the moment of her blow. She wanted to feel their blood splash against her. She enjoyed knowing how stressed and distressed they were. She could recognise the taste and signs of fear, pain, and despair. She revelled in their violent deaths, smashing and slicing at them with gusto. But the final blow was the best. By then they knew. By then their bodies were at the peak of agony. To kill them then was…

Beautiful?

Peleus looked at Memnon in surprise. Telephus had summoned him to the bridge of the Kraken and now he stood beside Memnon in his command chair.

I cannot understand, he said rather hesitantly.

Memnon looked at him in equal surprise. "It is a simple enough request, Peleus. And I understand the reasoning behind it. You acted as liaison with Lysippe when she was aboard the Prometheus, so it seems only natural that you in return should fulfil her role aboard the Queen of Angels."

Peleus was still bemused. And Pantariste asked for me?

Yes. Memnon turned to face him in his command chair. "Look, Peleus. Our search of the heavens for our brothers and sisters in arms is at an end. You were among the last to be found, and we now have a long journey home. We need someone on board the Queen of Angels. We need to maintain a close relationship with the Klysanthians. They have only two ships, both filled with survivors, and many more of their sisters are aboard our ships. There will be a lot of friction and a lot of going and coming. We need a central point of contact. That’s you. If you agree. If you do not, he shrugged, then I will choose another. Maybe Aeolus."

Telephus suppressed a laugh. There would be a war greater than the one with the Keruh.

His remark caused Antilochus to smile at the helm and Memnon glared at him until the smirk faded. Memnon then transferred his glare to his First Officer.

Maybe Aeolus would not be the right choice for this role, Telephus, but he would get it done, none-the-less.

Yes, Captain.

Memnon turned back to Peleus. So, Peleus, what is your decision?

I don’t know.

Memnon was losing his patience. How can you not know? he said in exasperation. What is it about this task that defeats you?

Peleus developed a faraway look in his eyes. Being among them, surrounded by them.

So you refuse?

I’m not sure.

Memnon sighed. Being close to the Klysanthians can be a distraction, I understand. But there are many that would jump at the position you would decline. He glared once more at Telephus. And some of them are on this bridge.

Telephus smiled but made no comment, so Memnon turned once again to Peleus.

Pantariste expects you in one hour. You have until then to make up your mind. If you fail to make the transfer I will select another in your place. You are dismissed.

Peleus nodded and walked slowly off the bridge. Memnon watched him leave and then shook his head.

How can one Klysanthian do that to a man? he said to no one in particular.

Telephus turned in his chair and faced his captain. They are very unusual women, Captain. Some say the best, although I am unconvinced. But it would be interesting to find out.

Ha! You are staying on my bridge, Telephus! Memnon exclaimed.

And what if Peleus refuses?

Memnon paused thoughtfully and leaned on the arm of his chair. Where is Aeolus?

Telephus smiled. You aren’t really thinking of putting my brother aboard the same ship as Pantariste for seven days?

No. But Aeolus knows Peleus as well as I know you. Contact him for me. I will speak with him.

It was time to wake.

How long had she slept? How long had she been apart from her other self? The passage of time eluded her. Now at last she was together again. Now she was whole once more.

But why was it dark? Why could she not see the sun go down? Had she missed it?

She felt large. She felt larger than she should be. And yet there was something missing, something she was familiar with and knew that she couldn’t do without. Why was it not there? Where had it gone?

And why was it dark?

She wanted to move. She did move. Her fingers brushed a smooth surface. It was hard and yet not cold. She stood up; her limbs and muscles suddenly declaring their presence with harsh tingling pain.

How long had it been since she had moved and flexed her muscles?

She reached out and found the hard surface again. It was all around her. It felt, oohh, so familiar. And suddenly she knew why it was dark.

She was inside herself.

The part of her that was missing was without and she was within. Their positions had been reversed, and as the memories of her past drifted into her mind she knew that she was lost.

I have no Purpose, she whispered in the dark. It has gone from me.

She felt no anger, no hatred. She felt at peace. She breathed the air her other self brought to her. She was safe, protected.

But had the sun gone down?

As Peleus walked back to his quarters his mind fell apart in confusion. How he ached for Lysippe, how the memory of her haunted him. And yet the chance to be among others like her terrified him. Why was that? Why did he fear them so? And why did he also yearn to be with them at the same time?

His mind and his body were torn apart. He feared and yearned for the same things. He feared the feelings and changes that they would stir within him, but he yearned for those feelings like a favourite drug snatched away from him. He wanted to be among them, to smell them and feel their presence, but he feared losing his heart for it only to be crushed once more.

But even if he agreed, how could he face them? How could he think and act sensibly when surrounded by them? He would be confused, distracted. They would play with him and torture him with the slightest touch and breath.

And why had Pantariste asked for him?

Peleus knew why. He remembered the conversation with her. He hadn’t been very polite. But she had made it clear that she was interested in him. She had known of his relationship with Lysippe and she had said that she wanted the same. She had said that she would wait until his heart was open once again and that she would approach him. She had also said that she wouldn’t wait for long.

Did he want that? Could he be content in the arms of another? Was he that shallow? And what if he faced Lysippe once more? What if he saw her again, and was close to her? How would he react? How would he feel?

No. His heart was far from being open again. It would be a long time before he could feel relaxed and at ease. And even then he would not be in a position to seek the arms of another. There would never be enough time for that. His life was too short.

Zeus entered the bridge of the Olympus, his rest taken and his mind refreshed. And as Jason jumped from the command chair to allow his captain to resume his place, Zeus called for his report.

What news, my friend? How are my charges?

"Both the Pegasus and Leviathan keep station now, Captain. All screens are clear and the main fleet is no more than seventy thousand leagues behind us."

Zeus took his seat and paused. They have gained on us?

Jason sat at his own console. Yes, Captain. Telephus has reported that all searches are now at an end and they have begun the journey home.

"You also said that the Leviathan has gained station?"

Yes. Castor reports that sufficient repairs have now been made to allow an increase in speed.

She can go faster?

Slightly.

Contact Castor, ask him if he can increase speed by a further five points.

Jason looked surprised. You mean to keep ahead of our fleet?

I mean to reach the Scamander well in time to ensure the security of the Troad for our people. I will not have the President and our entire Senate stand in a foreign land without our support. Make the signal.

Yes, Captain.

While Jason set to his task, Zeus stared through the open viewing ports before him and pondered on the change in situation.

So, Memnon meant to overtake him, did he? Well if it must be a race, then he would not shirk the challenge. But neither would he risk damaging the Leviathan or the Pegasus. That would be Memnon’s aim. He must know that if he increased speed too high, one of the cripples in his charge would fail. He would be forced to wait. And Memnon would snatch the glory of the victorious return from his grasp. But it was a double-edged sword, as Memnon would also have those within his fleet that were lame. For both of them the journey home would be a long, aching marathon. But it was a marathon that Zeus intended to win.

Jason looked up almost apologetically. Castor believes that no more than four points is within his grasp.

"Congratulate him and tell him that we will spare his engines and ask for only two. Pass the word to the Pegasus."

Jason smiled. Yes, Captain.

Nestor! Increase speed by two points.

Something stirred.

Was her time over so soon? It hardly felt like a moment. She had been awake for such a short time and she had still not seen the sun go down.

But it was too late. It was already dark and she must have missed it.

How she had wanted to see it again, just one more time. Instead she had remained in the dark, awake but still unseeing.

But now there was a change. Now her other self awoke once more and it was time for her to sleep again. Her other self had the power to do that now. They had been apart for too long, and she had grown too big. Now her other self was the assassin and she was the drone.

As the hard walls around her grew soft and moved in, her mind drifted back into unconsciousness. Her body curled into a foetal position and the dreams returned in all their splendour. But a last whisper left her lips at the last. Or were the words spoken only in her mind?

I must see it one more time, my sister. Take me up high, and show me the light and the rippling colours before my mind falls silent and dark…

Peleus opened the door of his cabin and found Aeolus leaning on the door-jam.

I never knew you were such a fool, his former captain remarked.

Peleus stepped aside to let him in. You have heard of my task?

Aeolus walked passed him into the cabin. Yes. Memnon spoke with me after he spoke to you. If you think you can shy away from this and leave me with Pantariste in your place you are sadly mistaken!

Peleus closed the door. I don’t really think Memnon will send you in my place.

"No he won’t, because you’re going."

Aeolus threw himself down on the couch and Peleus sat on the side of his bed facing him.

I fear it, he said.

Why? You know the Klysanthians. Ha! You know at least one of them far too well!

Exactly. And it hurts me, Aeolus. I loved her so much, and now she is lost to me. And if I take up this role, how will I avoid her? How will I face her again knowing that she is not mine and remain sane? How can I do the task Memnon wants of me with these thoughts constantly in my head?

Is it the fear of your failure or the fear of facing Lysippe that grips you?

Peleus looked down. I am still in love with her, Aeolus. I will always be in love with her.

Aeolus nodded knowingly and spoke seriously. "Let me answer your fears with an explanation you may not at first find relevant, my friend. It is a story part of which you already know, but the details will be of interest.

"My brother has a way with women I could never fathom. While I remained tongue-twisted and incapable of coherent speech in the presence of any woman, Telephus could charm her into his bed within hours. Any woman. I doubt even if our sisters could have denied him if he put his mind to it. I was always envious. Then came Penelope, and I soon realised that my brother’s success was more to do with the willingness of his victims to succumb to his charms than to his charms themselves. Penelope smiled and laughed but held firm, causing Telephus to try even harder. But each time she would smile and deny him. He became besotted by her because of this. And soon she held him in thrall, sending him on idle tasks and missions.

"I had often coveted the women my brother won over. But I never found the same success. This often irked me for I was older. Soon I stopped trying. I still wanted many of them, but I had begun to expect my failure, and so I gave up. I became merely courteous, and reserved, almost distant. And so I was with Penelope. But then one day she sent Telephus on another worthless task and while he was gone she smiled at me in a very different way to the way she smiled at him. I hadn’t realised until then how close and familiar she had become around our house. I had always thought it was because of Telephus, that it was a strategy she was using to win him over. But it wasn’t. When she looked me in the eye and smiled at me my world changed. I married her no more than a week later.

For months, Telephus never forgave me. And he never sought the arms of another woman, either. He was angry with me and with Penelope, and we often had cross words. Once we came to blows. But I knew it was his love for Penelope that stirred his anger. He finally moved away and avoided our house. And it wasn’t until our first daughter was born that he returned to us. By then he was calmer. He spoke with Penelope at length. I was content to leave them together, so strong was my trust in Penelope. It has never wavered to this day. And afterwards he smiled at me for the first time in many months and I knew his anger was at an end. Within days another woman was in his arms. I asked Penelope how the transformation had been achieved. Do you know what she said?

Peleus shook his head.

She said, ‘I reminded him that I had always told him that I loved another, that he had always known this, and that he knew I was merely waiting for this other man to make his feelings known. I told him I had never deceived him and that on the day when you finally did make your feelings known to me, he was already aware that it was you.’

Peleus smiled when Aeolus was finished. Your brother had over nine months to recover his sanity, I have had barely a day.

My brother had been in pursuit of my future wife for over a month, you have known Lysippe also for barely a day. You have suffered as he suffered, but at an accelerated pace. And he never triumphed as you did.

Penelope is a fine woman.

She is. And Lysippe is a very beautiful and slender woman. But Pantariste is a Matriarch. She is not the same as Penelope or Lysippe. She is not even the same as a captain. I admit this though it irks me to say so. She has acted as captain, but she has her whole House as her responsibility. It is one of the few Houses that remain with strength. For her to ask for you is a great honour. She may not have waited for you as long as Penelope waited for me, but she has made her intent known. She does know about Lysippe, does she not?

Peleus nodded. She does. She spoke with me when she visited Telepyleia in the ship’s surgery. She told me then that she was interested in me. She said my heart was closed but that my anguish would soon pass and it would be open again. She said she would approach me then.

Then to refuse her would be an insult.

It’s too soon, Peleus pleaded, standing up and beginning to pace about the room. I admit the similarities in your story, Aeolus, but your brother had time to mend that I have not had. I will be going to her with anger and bitterness in my heart and mind. Who knows what I will say or do?

She knows this, she is a Klysanthian. There are none who can read a man’s heart and soul better than they. If Pantariste has stood before you, she will know you, far better than even you know yourself. And she hasn’t made this request privately. She has done so through Memnon. She has declared her intent for you to all. She has asked for you, openly. If you must refuse her, if your heart is still closed as you say, then you must tell her this when you see her, privately, when none watch or listen. She deserves this at least. But you must not refuse this task. To do so would be an open insult that would mar our relations with them for a long time, far longer than it will take your heart to mend.

Peleus shook his head as he paced in his anxiety. You put undue pressure on me, Aeolus.

Aeolus stood up and grasped him by the shoulders, bringing his pacing to a halt.

"Pantariste places this pressure on you, not I, my friend. And she has done so because she wants you. You are very lucky, Peleus. Believe me, you may not think so, but you are. I know because I am equally lucky. I stood beside Penelope for nearly a month, coveting her and envying my brother when all she wanted was a single word from me. And when I finally uttered that word it was at her coaxing. I was an idiot who could have lost the greatest gift of my life through inexperience and apathy. I was fortunate because Penelope was patient. Pantariste will not be so gracious. You have less than twenty-five minutes before the Queen of Angels disengages. Gather what remains of your belongings. Go aboard and face her. Then make your decision. But once made, you will not be able to change it."

It would soon be over.

The Dominant of the Mysan’Taf watched as the last few Receivers clambered out of the cavernous hole in the floor of the Edenite RNP building and passed through to the portal. The number of Gatherers had also dwindled, but the most significant indication of their impending departure now emerged from the hole in the floor and lumbered after the departing Receivers. The huge Diggers always came last. They entered with the Warriors and left with them. Many of them had closed up the tunnels as they had retreated. It was a natural instinct to secure the Hive that hadn’t changed with the use of the Ring.

There were now no more than thirty Warriors left on Eden. They had been guarding the Dominant and securing the perimeter around the portal. But with the passage of the Diggers back to the Hive on their home world, these Warriors now gathered close to the Dominant. One of them bowed and swept his smaller hand before him.

The Gathering has ended and all Host members have been extracted, Most Gracious One, he clicked and hissed.

The Dominant repeated the gesture. This harvest world is now abandoned. Return to the Hive. Disconnect the portal.

With his final commands given, the Dominant walked towards the portal and the distant large figures of the departing Diggers. The Diggers had already crossed the portal and were safely back in the Hive. He was eager to join them. This had not been a favourable venture. His three bodyguards took their positions in a triangle around him as he walked along, and the rest of his Warriors walked behind him in two columns, their usual bobbing gait far from synchronised.

As they began to approach the portal, the floor suddenly bulged upwards, causing them all to stumble and stagger. More than one Warrior fell to the ground as it heaved and rose beneath them. A grating and rumbling noise accompanied the movement, and it grew in strength as the movement grew in violence. The remaining walls of the portal building now collapsed with a roar of falling masonry, and even the wreck of the Keruh spaceship rolled and settled. Then, when the noise and turmoil was at its greatest, the ground suddenly split open.

In a fountain of flying concrete, iron, rock, earth, and debris, Yan-Jai burst forth in a stream of bright silver. She was a huge snake with an angry head. And in that angry head was a gaping mouth filled with immense teeth, her jaws surmounted by bright red eyes that enhanced her angry expression. But she neither snapped nor bit at any of the Warriors left floundering by her emergence. Instead she shot straight into the portal like a stream of silver liquid driven at force.

One of the last Diggers turned to face her, its claws raised. It went straight into her open mouth and disappeared. Yan-Jai merely accelerated as she crossed the threshold of the portal and entered the Keruh home world.

The Dominant of the Mysan’Taf rolled among the debris and dust, his axe lost. Cut the portal connection! he shouted.

Three Warriors fired at the huge silver snake while others ran for the portal. But the shout and movement only produced a violent response.

Bright silver tendrils shot out of the body of the snake. Each drove