'What do you see?'
Arkyna opened her eyes. Riik had crouched down in front of her, blocking her view of the corridor which ran past this small alcove she had found. On the Tireless, which seemed to get more crowded the longer their journey lasted, finding any such space with even a semblance of privacy and quiet was something of an achievement.
'You close your eyes for hours, and you never move,' Riik continued. He reached out a hand and brushed a tear from Arkyna's cheek. 'But you cry. What do you see behind those eyelids?'
Arkyna closed her eyes again, saw it again. Her eyes snapped open. It was too soon. She had to concentrate. Here. Now.
'Nobody can change the past,' she said. 'Yet it haunts me.'
Riik, as usual, knew exactly what the problem was. The crowded conditions on the ship had heightened his empathy to a point where Iyshe had expressed the thought that it might be an ability akin to the use of Psi. He was not the only person who had noticed, and many of those aboard who avoided the Psidar in the corridors had started avoiding Riik as well.
'They chose to remain. They did not heed your warning. You bear no
responsibility for their deaths.'
'No. They chose to remain, but why? Walk round the ship. Look at the
people, look at the conditions we are living in. Add fifty people to the ship and tell me what it would be like then.' Arkyna leaned forward. 'Some of them died so that we could live. That is what haunts me.'
Leaving this ship will be a blessing for all of us. We are like the bubbles in a bottle of sparkling wine, and the bottle is being shaken. Soon, we must leave the bottle - be it through the neck, or by exploding out of the sides. I hope that Psidar Iyshe's predictions of our arrival time are accurate, for I fear that keeping the peace on board will prove impossible should we be late.
I also fear what will happen when we return to Alledora and our story is told. A somewhat greater proportion of the population there may be sympathetic to the Psidar, but with official recognition of their existance still withheld, they will get scant help from the Council.
Delar Kross now looks at me with hatred and loathing. He stalks the
corridors, spreading talk which dies away as I approach. Nobody will say what he says of me or of those who think as I do, but it cannot be good. The rumours of his attempt to murder Arkyna Dekarantos appear to be true. In her current state of grieving for those we left behind, I do not wish to contemplate what she might do should she discover this.
— Extract from the journal of Koro Tilin, kept during the voyage to Alledora
'This is it. We arrive today.'
'Are you sure?'
Iyshe looked indignant. 'Of course I'm sure. I checked the readings from the generator very carefully. We should leave the wormhole and return to conventional space in about five hours.'
'Good. This ship isn't good for me.' Riik climbed down from the makeshift bunk he'd been sleeping in. It wasn't his - there wasn't enough room on the ship for such luxuries as personal bunks. He and Iyshe had found two together empty, so they'd used them. As an added bonus, the other people sleeping in the same room were from the pro-Psidar or Psidar-sympathetic side. Iyshe grimaced at that thought. That people had become so partisan... Centuries of silence on the subject of Psidar had helped dull a lot of the antagonism on Alledora. It was remembered, certainly, but not with this intensity. He wished he knew if Dira Tulag was an exception due to the selection of its colonists,
or if all it took to divide people this strongly was open use of Psi by those with the talent.
One way or the other, he knew he was going to find out soon. Arkyna would never be able to hide her talent. The Psidar Council would want her removed, kept out of sight. He'd already decided he wasn't going to let that happen. For better or worse, Arkyna was going to be the instrument of getting official recognition of Psidar on Alledora.
If only he didn't have the horrible feeling that it might start a war.
Riik stretched, his fingers almost touching the ceiling as his back gave out a couple of rather worrying cracking noises. Evidently they felt good, because he sighed with relief.
'I'll be glad to sleep in a decent-sized bed again,' he said, then winced. Iyshe glanced over at the room's open door, and saw a group of farmers who had expressed strong dislike of anybody with Psychic talent walking past. Riik had proven remarkably empathic, and the tensions on the ship were putting a great deal of strain on him.
'And you'll be glad to get away from all these people feeling such strong antagonism for each other in such a confined environment.'
'Do you think they can hold off open warfare for five more hours?'
'I have absolutely no idea. What worries me more is if we can hold off open warfare when we get back to Alledora and our tale is told.'
'Is there anything we can do about it?'
'Take a vow of silence?'
Riik shook his head. 'Too many people know; and Arkyna isn't likely to want to hide what she is.'
'She may have to.'
'Will you make her? Can you make her?'
'I don't know. I hope we won't need to try. She's very powerful, very strong, but barely trained. She could be overcome by force, but...' Iyshe trailed off. He didn't want to think about what that confrontation would be like. He'd only ever met one other Psidar approaching Arkyna's power, but he knew there were others around Alledora. Between them they could plunge the planet into a dark age, flatten the cities, kill anybody who spoke out against them, but they didn't. Everybody knew the time was coming where the Psidar would come to the open again, and things would be resolved one way or another. Nobody wanted to hasten that moment.
The intercom sounded.
'Psidar Iyshe to the bridge please.'
Iyshe and Riik exchanged looks.
'No doubt they intend to quiz me as to how likely it is that we are going to emerge from the wormhole soon,' Iyshe said. Riik grinned.
'Well, you know where to find me if you prove wrong,' he said, and left the room, heading for an out-of-the-way spot near the engines, which was noisy and hot but at least fairly devoid of people and emotions to batter his senses. Iyshe turned in the opposite direction and reached the bridge without anybody trying to trip him or kick his ankles, which was something of a miracle in the past few days. The bridge was pretty full, and a large countdown timer had been added to the main display, showing the time until Iyshe had estimated that they would arrive. Really, it was far too early for him to be here, but it was slightly less crowded than most of the rest of the ship, so Iyshe was content to remain. Soon many of his questions would be answered.
Stars burst into being around them at precisely the appointed time. Applause started on the bridge, especially when the computer checked the local star patterns and concluded that they were within the Alle star system, about fifteen light minutes from Alledora's orbit, and not much further than that from the planet itself, which was almost as close to the wormhole generator from which they had emerged as it would ever get.
Iyshe was just being patted on the back by Ashlar when proximity alarms began to sound. Ashlar rushed back to the helm station and checked the displays.
'A large vessel coming past us,' he reported. 'It's nearly scraping the hull... clearance is five metres.'
'Move away from it,' Koro said. 'Carefully, if you please.'
The bridge had fallen silent. A door at the rear opened and Arkyna entered. Spying Iyshe, she came and stood next to him.
'Are we there?'
'Yes, but... oh my.' The ship which had nearly scraped the top of the Tireless' hull came into view on the main display. It was an enormous vessel, sleek and powerful and bristling with weaponry, rotating effortlessly in space so that by the time it had slowed to a relative stop in front of the Tireless, its largest cannons were aimed directly at the colony ship. A transmission came over the speakers.
'Colony ship Tireless, you are required to proceed under escort to spacedock where you will be boarded and inspected. Any attempt to deviate from your course will be considered an aggressive action and responded to with deadly force. Acknowledge.'
Koro licked his lips and activated the microphone to reply.
'Understood. Why -'
'No further communication will be permitted.'
The battleship began to move, still keeping its weapons trained on the Tireless, with the result that it moved in a direction which in relation to itself was a combination of sideways, downwards and backwards.
'Better follow them, I suppose,' Koro said. Ashlar nodded and kept pace with the battleship, swallowing nervously every few seconds. There were disquieted murmers around the bridge from the various onlookers. Koro turned to Iyshe. 'Were you expecting this kind of reception?'
'No. Something must have happened since I left.'
'Do you think they know about us?' Arkyna asked. 'About what happened, I mean?'
'I don't see how they could...'
'They could. At least, the means would exist to transmit a message. Mother knows how to do it.'
'But she wouldn't -'
'She wouldn't, but she's not the only FTL physicist on board.'
'I see. Any of them in the anti camp?'
'Then this could be more difficult than I thought. If things go badly, cooperate with them. You will be tempted to try and escape if they want to arrest us, but don't show any glimpse of your talent. The Psidar Council will hear what has happened and arrange for us to be retrieved, but we must not do it ourselves. Do you understand?'
The spacedock to which they were escorted was enormous and surrounded by six more battleships. Their escort went to join their formation and the Tireless was guided into position by a series of locator beacons. Iyshe felt the rumbling through the floor as the ship was pulled into place by magnetic grapples, then as an access tunnel extended and attached to the main airlock.
'Well, here they come,' Koro said. 'Open the door please, Ashlar.'
Ashlar operated the appropriate control and it was a matter of minutes before the bridge doors opened and a squad of soldiers came in, weapons at the ready. Iyshe caught Arkyna's eye and mouthed 'cooperate' to her again before he had to turn to face the wall while the soldiers made sure nobody was about to attack them. Next to him, he saw Arkyna doing the same, remaining calm even as they were all roughly searched and handcuffed.
'Where are we being taken?' Koro asked the Primate in charge of the squad, as another soldier bound his hands.
'You will be taken down to Alledora, where the Council will determine the reason for your return and whether you pose a threat to society,' the Primate replied in a learned-by-heart manner. 'Cooperate, and you will not be harmed.'
Koro's eyes narrowed. 'This is not the Alledora we left behind,' he said. The Primate lifted a hand, then hesitated and let it drop.
'No,' he said. 'It isn't.'