The green linen sheet flew off Nic of Tar. He shot off his bed, naked, but ready for a fight. A thought reconfigured his reflexes for optimal reaction times, another thought improved his field of vision to three-hundred degrees. No one was in the room.
He looked out the open window to check branches below and above his bedroom. His stomach turned from vertigo created by the fisheye effect of his augmentation. He canceled the enhancement and marveled at how his perception of the world collapsed around him. Someone slapped him on the shoulder.
With unnatural speed, he spun with his left palm out and open while he tightened his right into an arrow-hand. His left hand caught an arm, but when he struck for his attacker’s throat, he hit what felt like an armpit.
A window in his vision indicated that a voice analysis had begun.
The attacker tried to pull free of Nic’s grip. He followed the force with a simple toe-in step that should put his back to the attacker. He tested the theory by thrusting up with his right palm. He struck the attacker on the elbow. He toed-out and in, turning to throw his attacker over his shoulder.
The attacker landed hard. Furniture bounced. A clay pot filled with dried purple weed tipped over to spill its contents on the floor.
“Tarsoon, that hurt.”
Analysis complete: Iden of Otaku. Nic declined the Collective’s offer to display a detailed biography.
A white-crystal form blinked in and out, then in again. Iden’s flabby physique was covered in a jumpsuit. He pulled off a skintight hood that covered his face. His chubby cheeks were red from effort.
“Why in the lost world would you attack me like that?” Nic said.
“I heard you were home and thought I would say hello.”
“By attacking me?”
“Yea. You deserve it after that stunt with the water lizards.”
Nic laughed. Knowing that Iden enjoyed a late afternoon swim, he had set two child sized water lizards free in his recreational pool. For a moment in time, his stout friend had defied even Tojisoon’s strong gravity.
Iden rubbed the back of his neck. “So how did you see me?”
“I didn’t,” Nic said, panting. He reconfigured his reflexes for normal. Continued use of the augmentation would cause headache and sleepiness. “I guessed where your arm would be and struck for your throat.”
“Glad your aim was off, you could have crushed my windpipe.”
“Be glad Wad is not here.”
“Trust me. I looked for him before I decided to try this stunt. We haven’t figured out how to camouflage sound and scent.”
Nic studied the discarded hood. “What is it?”
“The fibers have a crystal lattice that acts like virtual screen cameras and emitters. Through a control and power unit, those fibers can sample the wearer’s surroundings a billion times a beat. Then we use a variation of the calculations that create virtual screens to project the surroundings onto the suit. Instant invisibility.”
Iden tapped a control unit on his arm. The suit activated and his body vanished from beneath his head.
“That’s fantastic,” Nic said. “Walk around the room.”
Iden walked to the door and back to the window. His face seemed to float like a boat on water as he moved. The suit recreated the leaves and branches outside Nic’s window when Iden stopped in front of it.
“I am going to need one of those,” Nic said.
“We have another prototype unit in the lab. We can pick it up after the council meeting,” Iden said.
He stripped off the jump suit while Nic dressed. Underneath, he wore his usual gray trousers and shirt, covered with a dull-white lab smock. The smock looked like it hadn’t been washed in days. He balled the jumpsuit around the control unit attached to the left arm, then stuffed the package into an oversized pocket.
“Hungry?” Iden asked.
“Fried insects from Tarante’s,” they said together.
Nic donned his hat. A mech had washed and dried it overnight. It felt crisp in his hands. He straightened the brim. Examined himself in a mirror, then summoned a board through the quantum. He preferred to fly over the city then use the crowded rail system. His window didn’t have a platform for a board, so they went up to the next level and waited on a balcony made of interwoven vines.
Layla joined them. She wore a flowing red gown with a gold sunburst across the chest. She had braided her hair. An sure sign she had spent the night in deep thought.
“I heard we are dining at Tarante’s,” she said.
Nic didn’t need to ask how she had heard. She had her hearing augmented at an early age. A board parked next to the platform. The fans that held it aloft made a soft rumble like distant thunder. Nic opened the safety rail and helped Layla aboard.
“We could just take the rail,” she said.
“But we will miss the sunrise.” He motioned for Iden to follow Layla. Tarante’s was on the other side of the city, at the lower end of the valley. Flying down the length of Tar City’s valley at sunrise had some of the most spectacular views on the island.
From above, the city looked like a dense forest of giants hidden in a wide valley on Tar Mountain’s side. The tianshen did not build with brick and wood, or even steel and glass; they used biological and nano technology to grow structures from the landscape. They transformed trees into skyscrapers with wood as hard as steel and as transparent as air. Stoney hillsides became elaborate crystalline structures that resembled blown glass. Mechanoids carved rooms, service corridors, and portals into those creations.
The tree they flew from was the oldest in the city. It grew at the bottom of a dark black cliff that towered behind it like a great wall. From here, the city spread out to fill the valley like water spilled from a glass. At the base of the long slope of the mountain, Starshine rose over the Arai. Light and morning breeze filtered up through the natural vegetation. Crystal structures hidden beneath the vegetation refracted light that danced on water vapor above it.
Where is Wad? Iden said through the quantum. Talking over the wind noise of an open board was difficult.
With the camping trailer. Layla answered. His presence would complicate the meeting.
Iden nodded in recognition.
Layla answering meant that she was comfortable with Iden knowing her plans. Or he was a part of them.
What do you know? Nic sent to Iden on a private channel.
Iden pointed to the city below them. The fall of Wanshi has them shook. The news feeds are filled with stories of narrow escapes. They want someone to blame. A dogo at the council meeting would be an easy target.
Nic didn’t respond. The attack on Wanshi was not his fault. He had thought the Dragon’s attempt to unify raka with tianshen a success. Social modeling had not predicted Wartooth or his ability to agitate dissenters and gain support from those already committed to peace. This Kishkha should have been the first celebrated by both tianshen and rakshoon. Instead, they were percolating toward violence. Where was Long?
They had a few beats before the board would descend to Tarante’s. The one augmentation he had that no other tianshen could possess was a direct link to the Collective’s base code. No other tianshen, except his father. The Collective had to know what happened to Long. He closed his eyes and transported his thoughts to the core. Code scrolled by his vision, but he wanted data. All he found was what he already knew. His father had left to meet with the orhatea and he had not accessed the Collective since then.
He sent a message to Long. Where are you? You are needed at the Council. If you do not come, they will demand I reconfigure the defense mechs for offensive use. Only you can stop us from going to war with the rakshoon.
Then he checked Long’s vitals. The Collective recorded him as alive, but the data was days old. A query window recognized Long as missing and asked if it should record him as deceased. Nic dismissed the window and opened his eyes. Layla studied him. She pulled a pipe from her red gown and chewed the end. The board descended to Tarante’s
When Tar Mountain was active, its magma flows had created landscapes that not even the tianshen could have imagined. This valley was not a simple hollow between peaks, but a depression between three frozen magma flows. The first formed the black cliff at the top of the valley, furthest from the Arai. A second ran down the south end of the valley. As tall as most mountains, its jagged edges tapered to a smooth flow that flattened as it raced into the sea. The third flow was the most spectacular. It curved in a long arc from the black basalt cliff to join with the southern flow. The effect was to create a rock wall that divided the valley from a rolling plain that eventually met the Arai.
Tarante’s was carved into an upcropping at the lowest point in that third flow. The restaurant was a popular landmark because of its view of the plains. Starshine was level with this natural wall when they sat at an open-air table with plates full of bugs. Layla preferred sweet roaches, Iden and Nic liked spicy crickets. They each drank an ice-cold mix of juice and bug powder that was a complete meal in itself.
“I love this view,” Iden said. “It’s like looking off the edge of the world from here.”
“If planets were flat. I could see it,” Layla said. “Starshine is so close, I should be able to grab it.” She pretended to do just that.
Nic bit into an especially peppered cricket and sneezed. “I like the cliffs that look like teeth on the other side of the mountain,” he said.
“Where you found the camping wagon?” Iden said.
Nic nodded, bit into another cricket, sneezed again.
“Why do you eat them so spicy?” Layla said.
“Clears my sinuses.”
Iden waved a hand in front of his mouth. “Lost world! Those crickets are hot this morning.” He sneezed.
Layla laughed, then swallowed a sugar crusted roach. She took a deep breath, then got down to business.
“Does the Collective think my husband is dead?” She asked Nic.
“Maybe. I don’t know,” he lied.
“If he were dead, you would have to accept responsibility for all of this,” she motioned with her glass of juice.
Nic felt his heart, and not from an augmentation. “I suppose,” he spoke through a dry mouth.
“You have never wanted it,” she said.
Iden drank his glass of juice and pretended not to listen.
“No,” he said. “I just wanted to explore this mountain. At the lake where you found me, you can wake to sunrises like this, and never know about all that other stuff.”
“The museum at Otaku has an immersive experience that is supposed to recreate a scene from Tarsoon,” Iden said. “You sit in this tub of salty water, they close it up so it’s completely dark inside. You can’t see or hear anything. The system monitors your vitals, and when you are completely relaxed a hologram of someplace on Tarsoon forms around you.” He finished his juice. “I guess it’s like that. Completely alone in your own space.”
“Yea,” Nic said.
Layla finished the last of her sugary breakfast. “What does it say about him?”
Nic dodged. “Biographical records. Like everyone else, I can retrieve a full accounting of his life.”
“And now?” She was persistent.
“It can’t find him.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing,” he barely spoke.
“If another tianshen couldn’t be reached, what would the Collective say?”
Nic spun his juice glass. A reflection of his face held study in its rim.
“Long lives,” she said. “Until I say otherwise.”
“Well, if he is alive, where the hell is he?” Iden said.
“On Ora. In Ora, if that helps explain whatever the Collective is telling you,” Layla studied Nic. He was her favorite subject this morning.
“But the quantum works on Ora,” Iden said.
“Not always,” Layla said to him. “I remember many occasions when our communications with Ora have been difficult. Raksha is clever as they say.”
“But the quan…” Layla’s stare cut Iden off.
“Now. That we all agree Long is alive, what does that mean for today’s meeting?”
“Nothing changes,” Iden said. “Okida will demand we use the mechs to attack Wanshi.”
“The Collective controls their base functions, and they are in defensive mode,” Nic said. “Okida can’t send them on an offensive operation unless they are reconfigured.”
“But only the Dragon can reconfigure mechanoid base code.” Iden said.
“I can do it in his absence.”
“But if the vote is divided Long could refuse the Council.” Layla said.
“Yes,” the agreement made his stomach turn. “If Long was here, he would refuse to use the mechs at Wanshi.”
“And if the vote is unanimous, the Dragon has to comply.” Layla was chewing her pipe again.
“That’s never happened. Getting twenty-seven tianshen to agree on something is impossible,” Nic said. “But in theory, the Collective would force him to comply. That code was written at the Collective’s creation on the Daisen, generations ago. I have no idea if it works or not.”
“Will you have to comply?”
“I don’t know. I am not the Dragon,” Nic said.
Iden smirked. “Good thing Long is still alive. But it doesn’t matter. No way I am voting with that muscle bound Okida.”
“Listen to me Iden of Otaku,” Layla said. “If all the council members vote for this war, you must vote with them.”
“Why? Wartooth isn’t a threat to Tar Island. We have defenses Wanshi didn’t. And Shohang was incompetent.”
Nic looked side-eyed at his friend.
“Sorry. I wasn’t thinking about Min’s loss.”
“Incompetent and a bit of pervert. He had a thing for raka females,” Nic said.
Iden rolled his shoulders and wrinkled his forehead. “That’s… I mean, they are so…” He shook his head.
“Don’t sully the dead,” Layla said. “What you both must know is that I will vote last at the Council meeting, and I will vote with the majority.”
“Long would never approve of using the mechs,” Nic said.
“He would try to find another way,” Layla stood. “But the Council’s power is weakening. If we don’t act as one, the Protectorates will form independent governments. Then we won’t have any power.”
She leaned against a guardrail to look down at the plains. Green fields ran against partially constructed white and blue towers that twisted into the air like filigrees.
“We are outgrowing this island,” she turned to Nic. “If you can get three or more members to vote against Okida’s plans, then I will table the motion until Long returns.”
“And I will second that motion,” Iden said.
Nic felt his heart again, but this time it was in his throat.
They left for Tar City’s Civic Center on another board. Layla complained about the height, but once they were airborne, she turned her head into the breeze and inhaled deeply. How she could be relaxed at a time like this was beyond Nic. He would rather be fishing. The thought reminded him of Wad. The big bear would be pacing with worry by now, but his bodyguard did not have a quantum connection, so it would have to wait until after the meeting. The board lowered to the entrance of Tar City’s Civic Center.
Liberated from their generational ship, and determined to preserve their past, the first generation of tianshen on this planet wrote morality tales into the structures they created. They chose a cathedral sized piece of basalt as the Civic Center for Tar City. The transformed rock made the reason for the Governing Council’s existence known to everyone who entered its black halls.
The entrance had a room-filling fresco of an exploding star and a disintegrating planet. A reminder that the tianshen’s quest for knowledge had destroyed their home world. Hidden at the core of the disintegrating planet was a door that opened to a long, narrow tunnel. The floor and ceiling of this natural hall absorbed light, while the walls exploded into details of the Daisen’s journey to this world.
As they walked down the hallway, animated scenes played on those walls like specters. Each scene reflected the style of its creator. Some flowed like smoke, others were retina jarring light shows. Most of the scenes varied depending on Tojisoon’s orbital location around Starshine. Fixed between those changing animations were lifelike paintings of important events: the creation of the Collective to store tianshen knowledge, the formation of the Council to govern tianshen behavior, the joining of the two to enforce decisions, the selection and creation of a Dragon to alter the Collective’s code, and—on the door of the council’s chamber—the arrival at Tojisoon.
The chamber room was a large natural hollow at the heart of the rock. Polished to glass smooth perfection, the once dark gray walls glowed with a black light that haunted the room. The wall opposite the grand entrance had one thousand seats carved into its original basalt. They rose in rows from the floor, each less distinct than the one before it. Only the first row, the one nearest the floor, had complete chairs. Each of these twenty-seven chairs were unique, with designs that told the personal stories of their creators.
Twenty-seven from one thousand was the most important lesson of the building. Of the one thousand families that boarded the generational ship Daisen at Tarsoon, only twenty-seven survived to create the new settlement on Tojisoon. Entering this chamber was a reminder that the tianshen had failed in the past, and the system this building represented was the best hope to avoid future disasters.
The past and the future were not the present, however, and with each passing speech Nic wondered if the council members walked the hallway with their eyes closed. Seven of the twenty-seven members had given elaborate presentations to support an argument for total domination of the rakshoon.
Kaodi presented last. He was a geologist and stone mason from the small settlement of Duochi. Except for Nic, he was the youngest member on the council, but he didn’t look it. He had a full red beard that touched the floor, and when you could see through its thick mass, you found a wrinkled and harsh face.
The Duochi had suffered more than most tianshen. The family tried to settle a mountain range on the continent, but the winter conditions were too harsh, and they retreated to a high peak on Tar Mountain’s side. They were experts at using orahi to manipulate the basalt rock created from the volcano’s eruptions. Kaodi used a tianshen sized piece of the basalt to make his argument. With liquid grace, the rock shaped and reshaped into various forms.
Before arriving on the planet, orahi was used to draw power from stars. Kaodi’s argument was that Tojisoon’s mineral content made it easy for the nano-mechanical devices to motivate this world’s water and earth, and that was all the proof needed to conclude that something fated the tianshen to claim this world.
Kaodi impressed Nic with skill at commanding the orahi in his piece of rock, but his argument was ridiculous. Even the gracious members of the council were reserved in their response, simply accepting his presentation and referring it to the Collective for storage.
“With the presentations complete, we must know decide,” Layla said. In the Dragon’s absence, she chaired the council. “The motion before us is to reconfigure the defensive mechanoids for offensive operations on the continent. The purpose limited to ending a perceived threat from the dogo Wartooth.”
“The threat is real,” Okida said. He wore a full body suit of woven gold. The suit’s thick chest plate emitted a hologram of the fire breathing beast he had tattooed on his chest. His thick black hair was pulled back into a single braid that ran down his back.
Layla rang a bell on the arm of her chair. “The member from Makkari is out of turn. We decided on the text of the motion in the morning session. We will not revisit it.”
Nic did not need the Collective’s data feed to tell him of the angst in the room. Whatever the council decided, enacting it depended on his cooperation. With Long missing, he was the sole arbiter to the Collective’s underlying code. A responsibility he never wanted. But faced with losing it, he was unsure of his options.
The best one was to avoid a unanimous vote. Twenty members had not presented. He only needed three of them to prevent war with the rakshoon, or at least delay it until Long’s return.
“I have not been given an opportunity to speak,” he said. It sounded like a cough. Even his wrists were sweating. He called for Long on the quantum as he walked to the presenting dais. Silence turned his stomach.
“You are not a sitting member of the Council, and you are under scrutiny,” Sharla of Yuson said. She was an intimidating woman. Her long gown moved and changed colors with her moods. She wore a crown of twisted platinum that encased a solaria she manipulated with her thoughts. As she spoke the solaria came alive to form a bright star in its center. The light of this star followed him to the dais.
“With the Dragon away, he is allowed,” Layla said.
“A responsibility he forfeited,” Jen of Mantee said. Like the Makkari, the Mantee prided themselves on their fitness and abilities gained through hard training instead of augmentations. She wore a gold body suit that matched Okida’s except her hologram was a bird with wings of fire. “If he couldn’t be bothered to stand in the defense of Wanshi, why should he be allowed to speak now?”
“A fair argument,” Layla said.
“You have been accused of negligence in your duties. What do you say, Nic of Tar?”
In two beats, Layla had taken the demand for his silence and turned it into a request for his defense. Three votes, and she would be the fifth after Iden’s fourth. Enough to table the motion and give him a chance to find his father.
“I was not here because the Dragon did not request my presence,” he spoke too softly. He felt sweat drip from his underarm. He took a deep breath and started again.
“When my father plans to travel from Tar City for more than a day, I am required to stay until his return. He did not inform me he had left, so I took the camping wagon to study fishing with a setori. Layla informed me of his absence two days later.”
“The Dragon’s absence is not the issue here,” Adam of Chusan said. He looked like an overgrown child with ruddy cheeks and small hands. The Chusan favored youthful appearance over all else. Sometimes to the point of become grotesqueries. Adam was nearly as old as Layla or Sharla, but through surgeries and augmentations he looked like a preteen boy. Even his voice was disturbing to Nic, a tenor when it should have been bass.
“The defense of our way of life is the issue here,” Adam continued. “And you assured the Council this gathering of raka at Wanshi was peaceful. It was not, and now my family has been forced back to Tar City. We had a life on the continent, and would like to live there again.”
The facts on the Kishkha were solid, but looking at Adam upset Nic, and no augmentation could stop his voice from cracking.
“Every winter the raka gather along the coast of the continent,” he said. “Cold air flowing over the Mada mountain range traps warm air rising off the Arai. While the plains north and east of the mountains are locked in snow and ice, the coastline enjoys rainforest like conditions. The raka consider these phenomena a gift from their planetary god Raksha.
“With this belief, comes a promise to avoid bloodshed and conflict through the winter. They call it the Kishkha, a word that means harvest and renewal. It has always been peaceful.”
“Wartooth is a dogo,” Okida said “We made them to be weapons, and a weapon does not respect superstitions and traditions. I warned this council of his attack and you chose to listen to this pacifist nonsense instead. If we had put defensive mechs in Wanshi, we would still control the city.”
Layla rang her bell over Okida’s last breath. “This has been discussed,” she said. “The motion recognizing the attack on Wanshi as a failure of this council was approved this morning. The motion before the council this evening is as I have described. We will not re-litigate the past.”
She rocked in her chair and tapped the bell with a long fingernail. “Nic of Tar has the floor,” she said.
“The Collective is a part of each tianshen,” Nic said. “The generation that escaped Tarsoon’s destruction wrote their history into their DNA, and preserved it by writing it into the DNA of each subsequent generation.
“On Tarsoon there was no government, or religion, or laws, or even the assemblies to create those institutions. The tianshen of Tarsoon either aided each other, or retreated to solitude and tended to themselves. They were artisans and scientist who shared their accomplishments with each other. When it seemed they might strip the resources of Tarsoon, they exploited the planetary system around their star. They colonized six of the worlds in the Tar system before they learned to fold space. Their resources seemed so infinite, they didn’t see the end before it was upon them.
“A thousand families escaped Tarsoon on the Daisen, but they were not accustomed to limited resources. Their traditional methods of dealing with each other did not work in the confined space of the generational ship, so they created the Council to govern tianshen behavior.
“A generational ship has limited resources, and without total cooperation of all aboard, all will perish. The first generation on Daisen thought such cooperation was inborn. Later generations learned that abundant resources, and slow population growth contributed more to our peaceful nature than genetics.
“Faced with tianshen extinction, the Council used the Collective’s access to our DNA to alter the base behavior of our species. The change was minor, but significant, it ended strife on the Daisen.”
The field of stars over Sharla’s crown solidified to a constant glow. Layla recognized her with a wave of her hand.
“Layla and I are the oldest members on this Council,” Sharla said.
“At best, you are days younger,” Layla said.
The glow above Sharla’s crown broke into a star field. The stars fell around her every changing robe as she laughed with Layla. “Tojisoon made a full orbit around Starshine before they broke my growth tube.”
“But you were more mature,” Layla said.
They chuckled together.
“Old women can interrupt the council, but I cannot,” Okida said.
“Enough,” Sharla said as she stood. “I see you Okida of Makkari, and Jen of Mantee. I see you too Kaodi of Duochi. I see you and your natural born. More than the other families, you have chosen the natural way to expand our species. In this room we are twenty or twenty-five generations removed from the first on this world.”
The light in Sharlong’s solaria went dark.
“On the Daisen you would have threatened the entire crew with the way you behave today.”
She walked to the dais, her robe moved on its own, flowing from around and under her chair like mercury. Standing next to Nic she said, “I will finish your story, Nic of Tar.”
Layla nodded. Nic returned to his position at the entrance of the chamber. If had found an ally in Sharla, other’s would follow her lead.
“The Tars and Yusons have a long history together,” Sharla said.
“We were friends from the day my father pulled you from the birthing chamber,” Layla said.
Sharla laughed. “So you admit I am younger,” she said, then she grabbed the podium with both hands, and the chamber’s light faded to black. In the black, Sharla’s solaria formed an image of the Daisen. The tianshen generational ship was a bright silver cylinder with a series of black bulbous nodes along the length of it. The nodes became larger as they approached the rear of the ship, where they ended in a plume of blue fire.
“Our species arrived on that ship.” She scanned the room. Certain she had everyone’s attention, she continued. “We lost her to the orhatea. No one in this room remembers that time. They teach it to us in University. We can experience it in our museums, even walking the hall to this chamber is reminds us of it. But the memory fades, and the lessons are lost.”
She stopped while her solaria reconfigured to show a twisted strand of DNA. The strand became a pink crystal that flew into a wall full of the crystals.
“On Tojisoon we record our history in more conventional ways. Data crystals in each of our Protectorate’s record, archive, and duplicate nearly every detail of our lives. But we still call it the Collective. Compared to the old Collective, the data in this new Collective is minutia. Through my quantum interfaces, I can access the data stored in my DNA. Let me show you what I see!”
The solaria in her crown exploded. A ring of red light flashed from a single star. As that light crossed the worlds orbiting the star, they disintegrated. The scene shifted to the Daisen, its engines a blue star accelerating the vessel away from the expanding debris of their home world.
“They destroyed Tarsoon by drawing too much power from Tar with the orahi,” she said.
The scene in her solaria shifted to the interior of the Daisen. Lush green fields and forests covered the interior of the cylinder. Bunches of white and blue structures rose from those fields like villages. The cylinder spun with increasing speed; the fields turned brown, then a few of the buildings turned black.
“This what consumption looks like,” Sharla said. “It takes a living world to support life, and when you do not have the whole of the galaxy, or even the resources of a small world, consumption will be your end. The Daisen generations sacrificed independence, even free-will to save our species. Think of it. Only the first generation knew what life was like on a planet. The second, third, and fourth generations never experienced a sky, or even a natural breeze. They only knew the interior of a ship they had to nurture to survive.”
The chamber returned to its normal glow. Sharla studied the faces of each council member before she continued. “The last of the Daisen generations determined our approach to this world. They did not see a planet to conquer, but a world to protect. They were wrong!”
She slammed her hands against the podium. “The first generation lost hundreds to the rakshoon before they gave up fighting for a space on the continent and settled in this valley. Uncertain how to fight, or even defend themselves, they made the ORA into orhatea, and the Bugs, as the raka say, fought for them. Another four generations wasted time trying to placate both raka and orhatea before taking full control of Tar Island.
If the first generation had eliminated the raka when they arrived, the orhatea would still be serving our needs. The dogo wouldn’t exist. And we would have harnessed the vast resources of this world to explore the galaxy again.”
Layla shrank in her chair. Nic was past sweating. He was as dry as a roasted cricket.
“So I say we stop with the posturing and vote. Let me be the first. I vote yes. We must defend ourselves from this Wartooth, and we must part with the past. I will prepare new motions to end the title of Dragon entirely. It is time for the Tianshen to stop cowering on the side of this mountain and become Explorers again!” She pounded the podium with a fist.
Okida gripped the arms of his chair, but he looked as if he could dance. Jen looked at him with a passion reserved for lovers. Adam stood on his unnaturally short legs and applauded. Within a beat, the chamber echoed with shouts of “Yes! Reconfigure the mechs! Kill the rakshoon! End the Dragon! Free Tojisoon!”
Iden sat with his mouth open. His gazed moved between Nic and Layla with disbelief and shock. Layla leaned forward and tapped her bell. The ring was faint, but persistent. She waited for the members to take their seats before she spoke.
“Then we will vote,” she said. She sounded like an old man. “She called the roll in alphabetical order: Arai, Chusan, Doko, Duochi, Furuna, …”
They all voted yes. Iden looked and sounded as if he had swallowed a water lizard when he cast his vote. He did as Layla wished, and Layla kept her word. The vote was unanimous.
“Nic of Tar,” she said. “You have seen the vote?”
“Yes,” his lips moved but he didn’t speak.
Layla ignored his silence. “And you have recorded in the Collective?”
“Yes,” he said.
Long! Where are you! The Council has voted for war! I cannot stop it!
Silence made his ears ring.
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