Kati used the light of creation to win a war, and now, as empress, she must forge new alliances with former enemies. When her daughter, Yesui, is born with powers exceeding her own, Kati discovers that raising a super-being is no simple task. Yesui, a willful prankster, enjoys torturing her baby brother, Mengjai, who also turns out to be much more than he seems. But Yesui is the true Empress of Light and is later called upon to save a dying gaseous planet by adding mass to its core. There she falls in love with a gentle empath and must help in resisting a coup that endangers his family. Along the way, she discovers beings with powers even greater than her own, and learns that death is only a transformation to something new.
About the Author
James C. Glass is a retired physics and astronomy professor whose expansive career in the field found him in an array of roles, including working on ion and arcjet engines at Rocketdyne and serving as a college dean. Glass retired from academics in 1999 to pursue writing full time. His first piece of fiction was published in Aboriginal SF in 1990, the same year he won the Writers of the Future Golden Pen Award. He has published nine novels and four short-story collections. Glass lives in Spokane, Washington, and Desert Hot Springs, California, with his wife, Gail.
Read an Excerpt
Empress of Light
By James C. Glass
Baen BooksISBN: 0-671-31983-3
Mei-lai-gong came to Shanji in the form of an infant, and the world welcomed her with early morning light of Tengri-Khan reflected from the glassy surface of the Three Peaks she had created only weeks before her birth. One peak glowed pink, the other two laced with swirls of red and green, rising like jewels beyond the high cliffs across the valley from Wang Mengnu's great domed city.
Kati had felt increasing discomfort the day before; the position of her baby had suddenly shifted, and although the pain in her back had subsided, there was new pressure in her groin that brought her near exhaustion by evening. She used her hands, drawing from the light of Tengri-Khan to relax her muscles and bring new energy to her child, although there seemed little need for that. Yesui had been extremely active all day, constantly turning, shifting position, and always there was that tiny hand exploring and the wonderful energies coming from it, spreading everywhere.
Still, Kati was weary by the end of a day of continuous meetings, first with the nobles, then a group of factory managers from the east who listened sullenly to her lecture on their responsibilities to the workers under her new regime. Later in the day, she wrote orders for three of them to be replaced; having probed their minds, she'd found them to be immovable from the old ways, yet they'd not been honest enough to openly disagree with her. She would let them know that nothing could be hidden from the Empress of Shanji. The meeting with the Council of Ministers went well enough, but all were men, and everytime Yesui performed some new aerobatic that brought a gasp from her mother, they looked as if anxious to flee before their Empress could drop her child before their very eyes.
She retired to her quarters earlier than usual, and lay down on the canopied bed brought from the rooms she'd occupied as a ward of the Emperor, the bed on which Yesui had been conceived the night before a short but terrible war bringing Kati to the throne of Shanji. Energy drained, Kati watched Tengri-Khan's red disk settle down towards the summits of Three Peaks, then dozed. She was awakened by her husband's return, but kept her eyes closed at first as he padded quietly around the room so as not to disturb her. When she opened her eyes, she saw him standing by the little wooden crib brought to them by the Tumatsin, rocking it back and forth with his foot, his back to her.
"I think it will be filled soon," she said, and he turned around, startled.
"Did I wake you?" Huomeng said, coming over to sit on the edge of the bed, and taking her hand in his.
"I was just dozing," she said, squeezing his hand, "and Yesui has been very active today. I think she is eager to leave her little place, and be with us in the light."
Huomeng stroked her forehead, leaned over and kissed her lightly as his hand moved to her swollen belly.
"She's quiet, now. Do you feel her?" asked Kati.
"No movement," said Huomeng, looking concerned.
"I meant with your mind, not your hand. Do you feel her presence as I do?"
"I feel something-yes. A kind of watchfulness, but no images. Did you really see her with you in the gong-shi-jie on the day of the explosion over Three Peaks?"
"Yes," Kati said patiently. "I felt her there, and the little green tendril of flame that followed me everywhere could only have been her. I've never seen such a thing before." They had discussed this several times before now.
"But how could she? She's not even born yet. How could she be so aware?" Huomeng rubbed her skin softly. "There is such warmth beneath my hand when I touch you here."
"It feels wonderful," said Kati, raising her hips slightly to meet his touch, and he grinned.
"Soon you will not be so fragile," he said.
"Soon," she said, and reached out to playfully tousle his hair.
He kissed her again, longer this time, then stood up. "Do you want something to eat? I'm starved."
"Not tonight. I just want to rest. Tanchun will fix something for you, and you can bring me honeycakes and tea for later."
"I will be quiet when I return," Houmeng said, making her giggle when he tip-toed comically from the room. His mask was put aside, as it usually was for her, and she felt his nearly childish excitement over the coming birth of their child.
Kati sighed contentedly and watched Tengri-Khan disappear below the peaks, the sky there now deep red. She listened for a mental sign from her daughter, but there was nothing. Do you sleep, Yesui? Are you ready to be born yet? I feel so strange. I think the time is near.
She wondered if Mandughai was watching her, then dismissed the thought. First Mother would be busy now with the return of her troops to Tengri-Nayon. Perhaps they'd already arrived there. Nearing sleep, mostly through the habit of years, Kati felt the urge to go to the gong-shi-jie, the place of creation, to wander among the auras of planets and stars, to feel the swirling energies of the purple light there which moved at her command. She suppressed the urge, for if she went now to the gong-shi-jie, Yesui might follow her, and the last time had seemed traumatic for the child. Kati was still haunted by the events of their return: the black, snake-like energy field writhing behind the green flame that was surely Yesui, the terrible explosion above Three Peaks turning rock into colorful glass, then Yesui kicking furiously in terror within her mother's body.
Now was not the time; she would hold Yesui in her arms before again taking her to the gong-shi-jie. The thought was her last of the evening. Her eyes closed, the matrix of twinkling, purple lights was there for a moment, and then she fell peacefully asleep.
But it seemed only moments later she was awake again, and Huomeng was warmly beside her. Her hands were clenched into fists, and there was a strong squeezing sensation in her lower body. She sat up with a gasp, and the squeezing intensified. The sheet beneath her legs was saturated with wetness. Fright turned to excitement with recognition of the signs. She prodded Huomeng's shoulder with her hand. "Wake up, dear, and get Tanchun to call my physician. Our child has decided it's time for her birth."
Huomeng was instantly awake. "Now?" he gasped.
"It's just beginning," she said calmly.
Huomeng leaped naked from the bed, and immediately crashed into something in the darkness.
"You do not have to rush so. We have time enough," she said.
"Yes, yes," he said. He found a light and hobbled to a chair draped with his clothes, then dressed. "You still insist on it being here? It would be much safer for both of you if you were in hospital."
"Our child will be born in this bed. I'll have it no other way," she said firmly.
Huomeng smiled as he struggled quickly into his shirt. "Empress or not, you will always be a Tumatsin, but I love you anyway."
"The mother of your child is pleased to hear that," she said serenely, but clenched her hands as muscles within her were suddenly as hard as stone. She opened her mouth, and breathed deeply as Huomeng fled from the room.
In moments he was back, with Tanchun pushing past him at the door. Well into her forties, the servant of Kati's foster mother Weimeng now served Kati as well, and was still slender and lovely. She ordered Kati out of bed, and had Huomeng walk her around the room while the bedsheets were changed. Other servants arrived with towels and basins, and a polymer tub, empty, on a cart. Unlit candles were placed around the room, Kati's shrine brought out from a cabinet and placed before the open door to her balcony. Beyond it lay the sparkling of stars above the western horizon.
Kati knelt with effort before the shrine, and arranged the elements there: the three candles; greenstone bowls with incense and sweetgrass. Huomeng helped her rise again as the physician arrived, a Moshuguang named Zhan Zheng, who had impressed Kati with his loving care of young mothers among Shanji's rural people in the east. He was well acquainted with home-birthing traditions, and respected them, even for his Empress.
Kati lay down on the bed for Zhan Zheng's inspection, and he was pleased with his findings. "She is well-positioned," he said. "I do not think your labor will be long. You may walk a little and meditate while you can. The contractions will soon become quite forceful."
Two nurses arrived, one of them a young woman newly trained in the great eastern city of Wanchou, and obviously thrilled by the honor of attending her Empress at such a time. Kati felt the fleeting desire for the presence of a Tumatsin mid-wife, but it had not been possible to arrange, and she reminded herself that the vast majority of Shanji's peoples were represented in the room. The lights of the room were dimmed as Huomeng walked her around again, and she lit each candle with a wave of her hand. With only the candles providing light, she knelt again at her shrine and passed her hand over it, igniting candles, incense and sweetgrass, breathing in their scents and going deep within herself. The purple matrix of stars was instantly there, and she moved towards it, felt Yesui stir inside her as a contraction came. There was no sensation of pain, only effort. She did not go to the gong-shi-jie, just hovered before it, focusing only on a single, purple star, a single entrance to the place of creation.
The light comes to me, and goes forth from me, and I am one with it. I bring it forth to give energy to myself and to my child for the task at hand. Come to me.
And the light came forth, waving filaments of purple from each twinkling star, rushing towards her until she felt warmth, first in her head, then spreading downwards to shoulders, arms and chest. Yesui suddenly turned within her, as if startled, then was quiet again as the warmth reached Kati's legs, permeating the hard muscles there until they seemed liquid. In one rush, her body was both relaxed and energized, and she sat erect to straighten her spine, a low growl escaping from her throat with a slow exhale of breath.
It was very quiet in the room. Kati opened her eyes, saw her hands cupping each other in her lap, an oblong shape of blue plasma floating just above them. "Ahhh," she breathed, and the plasma flowed into her palms and was gone.
"I am ready," she said. Huomeng helped her up and took her back to their bed, where Zhan Zheng and his entourage awaited her. They laid her down gently, her arms relaxed at her sides, eyes closing, breathing deep, and before her was only swirling, purple light from a place without time. Time did pass, she was told later, nearly three hours of it, but there was no pain, no sense of effort, only the swirling light that came to her in pulses of increasing frequency until finally she heard a voice from far off.
"Here she is. Quietly, now. Kati, wake up! She's here!"
Pressure on her chest. She opened her eyes, for one instant illuminating her chest in green to see a form lying there, rising up and down with her breathing, the physician bending near to examine it. "She's perfect," he whispered, "and still asleep. I think she slept through the whole thing. Bring the tub, now."
She is not asleep, thought Kati. I feel you, my daughter, both your presence and a new awareness I've never felt before. You sense a new touch, a new part of my body, a breath of night air from Shanji, but mostly the warmth of the pretty light that surrounds us both. Do not open your eyes yet, for there is more to feel, and the light will keep you warm.
Zhan Zheng lifted Yesui slowly, carefully from Kati's chest, cut and tied the cord, and floated her in a tub filled with warm water. Sounds of flowing water, and a sudden squeak of complaint, then stillness. Huomeng appeared at Kati's bedside in candlelit gloom, taking her hand in his, eyes glistening. "She is beautiful," he whispered, "like her mother."
The child was soon dried, wrapped tightly, and placed in her mother's arms. "Come closer," said Kati, and Huomeng sat on the edge of the bed. Together, they looked down on Yesui's face: the bow of her mouth, the button nose, the crown of her perfect head with wisps of dark hair. Her brows were knitted, as if she awaited a new sensation: a touch, or a sound.
"Yesui," said Kati. The baby's eyebrows raised, her lips parted. Her eyelids seemed to glow.
When she opened her eyes, she was looking straight up at her father, and his face was suddenly illuminated in emerald green.
There was a collective gasp from the people standing at the foot of the bed.
"Ohhh," murmured Huomeng. He reached out a finger to touch Yesui's tiny hand, and she grasped it, her glowing eyes clearly focused on his face.
"You are surprised," said Kati.
"She is a newborn child. How can she-?"
"I draw from the light, and the light comes to me, and the glow of my eyes only signifies my connection to the place of creation. I bring it forth so-"
The three of them were suddenly illuminated in the light from Kati's eyes. Still grasping Huomeng's finger, Yesui turned her head and looked up at her mother's face. Her eyes widened, their glow brightening. The bow of her mouth quivered, then curled upwards at its edges.
She recognizes me, dear, from our brief time in the gong-shi-jie. The smile is real, not something from a gas bubble, and her eyes are truly focused. Her connection with the place of creation is already made, as you can see. You do not yet recognize your own daughter, Huomeng.
"What do you mean?" whispered Huomeng.
"You do not recognize the being the Moshuguang has worked for a thousand years to create, the being who will bring matter as well as light through, and from, the gong-shi-jie."
"The Three Peaks," whispered Huomeng, and she knew the truth had come to him.
"Hot gas and dust from our own sun, and not by my effort. I will build a shrine there to commemorate her first miracle. All of you, now, come closer, and look down on the face of the Mei-lai-gong."
The others drew near, gazing with quiet reverence at the child's glowing eyes. Yesui's smile disappeared as she looked at each individual. When her gaze came to the young nurse from Wanchou, the woman bowed deeply before her, eyes glistening.
Yesui looked again at her father, then her mother. The smile returned, and she kicked her legs hard within the tight wrapping, making a little cooing sound, and turning her head towards Kati's warmth. She squirmed suddenly, and whimpered.
"She's hungry," said Huomeng, shaking Yesui's hand gently, the little claw still clamped firmly on his finger.
"I will fix enough to last until your milk comes in," said Zhan Zheng, and he hurried from the room with the young nurse right behind him.
Excerpted from Empress of Light by James C. Glass Excerpted by permission.
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