The Shanji Trilogy, which began with Shanji and Empress of Light , comes to its stunning conclusion with this tale of three generations of Creators. Kati, the light-wielding genetic changeling who saved her planet and became its empress, is now threatened with assassination. Yesui, Kati’s daughter who came to control mass as well as light, faces revolution and learns the uses of diplomacy. And Bao and Shaan, Yesui’s twin daughters, take the lineage to its limit. Leaving their universe behind, they spin forth a radiant new creation.
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
There had been light rain during the night, and in the morning glow from Tengri-Khan water droplets sparkled in rainbow colors as if diamonds studded the transparent dome high above Shanji's capital city. Across the valley, a black buttress of rock rose to scattered forests among mountainous craigs giving the planet its name. Three peaks glowed in a mottling of red and yellow, and there was a flash of gold from the roof of a pagoda nestled within their summits.
Yesui yawned, and raised her arms in ritual greeting to the morning, the palms of her hands turned outwards to receive the light, drawing energy from it in a smooth flow through arms, chest and legs. The ritual was a daily reminder she was an intimate part of this world and the universe containing it. A special part, yes, for she was Mei-lai-gong, the Empress of Light. Within the hour she would return to the gong-shi-jie, the place of creation, to do her daily work. There had been a time when the gong-shi-jie was her prefered place to be, her manifestation floating within swirls of the light of creation, the vortices of stars peeking through from real space, all peaceful, without ambition or agenda, so unlike her interactions with people. But then she had met Nokai and now he was with her on Shanji, and it seemed her heart constantly ached with the love she felt for him.
As Ambassador of Lan-Sui, Nokai kept a suite of rooms in the Hall of Ministers, and from where she stood on the balcony of her palace apartment Yesui could see that the windows of those rooms were still shuttered. Nokai was not an early riser, often retiring aftermidnight and ending each day with an hour of deep meditation and prayer to First Mother. How unlike we are, thought Yesui, yet I love him so much and he loves me, too. I feel it even now; it's as if we're constantly connected.
Yesui sighed, and watched as the city of Wang Mengnu Shan-shi-jie awoke below her. Here was the city of Shanji's Empress, Yesui's mother, called Mengnu by the people and Kati by those who knew her well. Even in early morning the cable cars were running up and down the steep upper slopes of the city, and little dots of people were waiting on pagoda-roofed platforms to receive them. Others scurried to and from buildings of steel and polymer colored red, yellow, green and blue rising as high as ten stories to the left of the cable cars, while to the right a cascade of hanging gardens swept down the slope in a single mass of color. The gardens were empty of people, except for one place where a small group was performing morning exercises by a pond. Likely they were elderly people, for this was a workday on Shanji, and even at first light many would be engrossed in their tasks.
Her grandfather was no exception to this.
Good morning, sweet one. It seems too nice a day to work, but your father and brother are expecting you and you are again distracted by love.
Gong-gong! I didn't even sense your peeking. You're being naughty again.
Then you shouldn't broadcast your feelings so loudly without shielding yourself. Every Moshuguang in the city is probably feeling heartache at this very moment. And your father's ship needs that jump in space-time within half an hour if he's to reach Tengri-Nayon on schedule.
I can put them within an hour from orbit, Gong-gong. You've seen me do that before today.
Not when distracted, dear.
Even the Chancellor of the Moshuguang could not shield the good humor in his mind, but then Ma was suddenly there to defend her daughter.
Mengmoshu is such a tease in early morning before his desk is heaped with work, dear. It will pass. Good morning, Father.
Ah, you also work early.
What else am I to do when my husband is away? Yesui, I've written a note for your father, and Tanchun is bringing it to you. We have family on that ship, so do try hard to focus on your work when you get there.
Oh, Mother. Yesui left her balcony and closed the plasdoor behind her. I'll go right now, then.
Good, said Mengmoshu, then, Kati, we must talk in person. Would you join me for noon tea at Stork Tower? It's about ... well ... please excuse us, Yesui.
And they were suddenly shielded from her.
"Now what?" said Yesui. She took one step towards her bed, but then there was a soft rapping at her door. When she opened it, Tanchun was standing there holding out a sheet of vellum to her. The servant of Shanji's Empress and also Weimeng, first wife of its former Emperor, was rapidly greying but still slender and graceful. "For you, from your Mother," she said softly, "and you have another visitor here."
Yesui took the note, read it quickly and peered past Tanchun to see Nokai standing there dressed in the robe of a Lan-Sui priest, his eyes twinkling with amusement. She was suddenly aware of her disheveled hair and the rumpled old robe she wore. Her heart pounded, Tanchun smiled shyly, bowed, and glided away from them.
"Nokai! You were right here, and I didn't feel your presence," she gasped.
"I wanted to surprise you, and succeeded," he said, stepping up close and taking her hands in his. "I know you have work to do, and I have an unusually early meeting to attend. Yesterday you asked me what I would like to see next on Shanji, and I've finally decided what it is: the pagoda, the memorial shrine in your honor at the summit of Three Peaks. I wish to go there with you late this afternoon and perhaps hear the story about a shrine I understand you have not yet seen, even though it honors you."
He squeezed her hands gently and she was lost to his will. "Near sunset," she said. "I will arrange a flyer."
"Not by horse?" he said.
"I don't ride horses," said Yesui. "Mother is disappointed by this, of course, but I wasn't raised in the mountains like she was. Besides, the trip is hours by horseback and a flyer can have us there in minutes."
"Very well," said Nokai, but Yesui sensed his disappointment at not experiencing a ride on an animal, something the people of Lan-Sui only read about in stories.
They set a time, Nokai kissed her hands and let them slide from his as he turned away. Moments after he left she could still feel his now unshielded emotions, and her own heart continued to flutter as she flopped down on her bed. When she stared up at the white cannopy of silk, Nokai's face was there, long, delicately boned, brown eyes with green flecks, beautiful, then fading as she breathed deeply, slowly. Her heartbeat slowed, and she closed her eyes.
If only you could go with me like Mengjai. My brother understands. He has seen the beauty of the place of creation, and understands my attraction to it. But you cannot go there, my love. In this we are so different, and I hope it will not be a barrier between us.
In relaxing she gained initial focus, first physical, then mental, for her body was but a shell when she was gone. Sensation ceased in her feet and hands, then legs and arms, then chest. She let out a deep breath in a sigh as the matrix of purple stars appeared in her mind, and she remained with it for a long moment. For that part of her special mind that had come from a mixing of Tumatsin and Moshuguang bloodlines, her body ceased to exist. She was now pure spirit, soul, a thing not yet understood but conscious, hovering in real space and aware of the matrix of entrance points to the higher dimensionality called the gong-shi-jie, the place of creation. Long ago, before humans, or planets, or stars, there had been only one point in the matrix, and from that point had come a single burst of light colored purple beyond purple, giving birth to an ever expanding universe. The matrix had expanded with it, now filling all space. The distance between each point of purple light in her view was small beyond imagination.
Now she moved towards the matrix of purple lights, still points as she drew closer, their spacings increasing, one looming straight ahead of her and she fell into it, briefly aware of the lace of green threads as she went through the interface, the purple vortex forming to mark her return path as she came once more to the gong-shi-jie.
Swirling clouds of purple laced with blue enveloped her and in every direction were the vortex manifestations of stars in real space, colored deep blue to red in a pattern immediately familiar to her, a pattern compressed, for in this place there was no continuum of space or time. Still, the pattern remained constant, connected to real space by the quantum electrodynamical interface in which her day's work was to be done. Close by the small, purple vortex marking the return path to herself was a large swirl in red-orange that was Tengri-Khan, and even from here she could see a similar stellar manifestation showing the presence of Tengri-Nayon. Yesui drifted towards it, a ghostly presence in a place of chaos beneath order. When alone there was no need to show the green flattering manifestation of herself to someone, and maintaining it was a distraction when her work was delicate.
Her father's ship was now nearly two light years out from the Tengri-Nayon system and well beyond the great cloud of icy debris surrounding Tengri-Khan. Her control over the space-time wave was still imperfect; it encompassed not only the point of origin as defined by contact with Mengjai aboard the ship, but everything along a line thousands of kilometers parallel and antiparallel to the ship's trajectory. Safety demanded that space around the ship be as empty as possible during a jump.
First she must find Mengjai, and that was the easy task. Her sneaky brother probably sensed her even now. This was verified when she neared the vortex of Tengri-Nayon and called out to him.
Mengjai, I'm here.
His response was immediate. Yes, you are, but taking your time about it. Are you enjoying the view, or just thinking about Nokai?
Both, dear brother. He's taking me to see my shrine on Three Peaks after I'm finished here. We're going to make mad love there. Yesui adjusted her course, homing in on Mengjai's presence. The vortex of Tengri-Nayon was huge as she dipped down near it to enter the interface.
You're dreaming, Yesui. If you insist on marrying a Lan-Sui priest you'll have to wait until your wedding night. Are you in the interface yet?
Yes, but you needn't talk now. I have found you.
All around her were the green threads, sparkling like spider-web in morning dew, the manifestation of space-time in this strange place separating two vastly different dimensionalities. Near her the threads were roughly parallel, slightly curved, but in the distance they joined others in the whirlpools that were the sister stars Tengri-Khan and Nayon. Locked on Mengjai's presence, she came in closer, closer to a single thread, at first sparkling, but uniform, then not so uniform, then a series of bright, oblong spots, closely spaced, pulsating in brightness. Without conscious thought she rushed towards one point, swallowed by it in a flash and suddenly the colors were gone. The blackness of real space was punctuated with thousands of stars, two of them quite bright to her left and right.
Her father's ship was right in front of her, less than a kilometer away. So, here I am. Are you ready to jump?
I am, but father is asleep and I'm going to leave him that way. The last two jumps gave him a headache because he insists on keeping his eyes open.
But Ma gave me a message for him.
I'll pass it on to him. Trust me, I have a brain.
Really? Well, the message is short. I suppose you can handle it.
Yesui gave him the message, most of it actually for Empress Yesugen on the capital planet of Meng-shi-jie in the Tengri-Nayon system. There was a meeting planned for two Empresses, to take place in the gong-shi-jie, and a time-line on production of carbon-nanofiber-reinforced polymer. Ma sends her love to both of you, she said.
I'll pass it on. And say hi to Nokai for us. He's a nice guy, Yesui, the only person I've ever met who can calm you down. Better marry him, and give us all some peace.
I will when he asks me, and Nokai isn't here now. Let's see how close I can get you to orbit this time.
You were close enough last time, so don't get cocky. That's why we have engines on this thing.
The ship was a Meng-shi-jie freighter, wedge-shaped and uunarmed, its cargo bays crammed tight with polymer beams and panels destined for housing construction on that planet. Lan-Sui emigrants remained a problem there, most of them choosing to remain even after peace had been restored and Yesui had renewed the warmth of their gaseous world by transfering mass to it from the gong-shi-jie. The issue was living space, and with new materials provided by trade with Shanji, Empress Yesugen was making every effort to solve the problem.
Okay, here we go, said Yesui. A flash of green and she was just back inside the interface, a single oblong spot of green now fringed in purple, how she did not know. The high level creator she still named 'Mind' had done it for her on her first jump, but now it just happened. It was now her twelth jump, at a familiar distance, freighters streaming to and from Shanji with her guidance, Mengjai logging some forty light years of travel in less than one year real-time. She paused, the oblong spot flickering back richly at her, and used the mantra her Mother had taught her for focus.
I am Mei-lai-gong, the Empress of Light. I call the light, and it comes to me -- so.
There was a brilliant flash of violet, fading rapidly, a wave of flickering points radiating from the oblong with symmetry identical to it, then slowing. Yesui returned to the gong-shi-jie to receive her brother's critique on the work.
Well? How close?
Hmmm. I'm checking. Meng-shi-jie is on screen. Strobe on. Time is -- one-point-six seconds, and convert -- that's two hundred fifty six thousand kilometers from orbit. Not a record, but close to last time. That's fine with me, Yesui. A comfortable margin. Let's keep it that way.
Okay. I'll be back in a week, then. Behave yourself in port, brother.
I have no choice; I'm a guest of The State, and the women here are anything but delicate flowers. Not my taste. Hurry back to Nokai, now, and thanks for a good trip.
Bye, she chirped, and did what he said, drifting quickly to the purple vortex of herself and falling into it. A flash, and physical sensation returned. She was on her back, arms at her sides. She opened her eyes and saw white silk draped above her. Here in her room only a few minutes of real time had passed, yet she'd traveled nearly six light years in performing her task. She sat up on the bed and yawned, and then Ma was there again.
Ah, you've returned. All went well?
Yes, Mother. And your message is delivered.
I'm having breakfast on the balcony. Will you join me?
Yesui felt the lonliness in her mother. Even after twenty six years of marriage, Mother still missed Da terribly when he was away. In a few minutes, she said. She got up and spent the few minutes fighting with the tangled mass of her hair, then changed into a yellow robe and matching slippers and left the suite of rooms once occupied by an orphaned Tumatsin child destined to become the Empress of Shanji.
The royal suite was only meters away. She knocked softly on the door, and Tanchun answered it, smiling and bowing politely. Past the huge bed canopied in gold, double doors were open to the balcony and Mother was sitting at a table there, sipping tea. Her eyes went from brown to a beautiful emerald green in an instant as Yesui approached.
"Good morning, dear. I'm having my usual barleycakes, but Tanchun will bring whatever you want."
Yesui hated the Tumatsin staple. It tasted like heavy paper when chewed. She asked for honeycakes and a hardboiled egg and poured tea for herself as Tanchun hurried away.
"Mengjai was his usual grumpy self this morning," she complained.
Mother munched, and smiled. "He doesn't have a love to soften him."
Yesui took a sip of tea. "You're probing me, Mother. And Mengjai says the women on Meng-shi-jie are not to his taste."
Ma chuckled. "His time will come. Your time has come. It's been a year, now. Have you and Nokai talked about marriage?"
"Mother, not now."
"I'm not prying, dear, but the two of you practically glow when you're together. And I was only twenty one when I sat on this very balcony, feeling your special presence inside me. I remember that first time we were together in the gong-shi-jie and my realization of what you might be. First Mother has blessed me with my children. I want the same for you and your brother."
Tanchun thankfully interrupted by arriving with honeycakes and an egg for her. Yesui cracked open the egg and let it cool while she nibbled at a cake. "Nokai and I will visit the shrine on Three Peaks this afternoon," she said absently. "It was his suggestion."
"How wonderful!" said Mother. "You've seemed so reluctant to see it, and it does honor you, dear."
"As the Mei-lai-gong."
"Yes. That is who you are."
"I am Yesui, Mother, a person, not a god, not a thing to be awed by or worshipped."
"The shrine isn't a temple. It commemorates an event that turned the Three Peaks into colorful glass, fused by hot dust from our own star. You did that, Yesui, before you were even born. It is a symbol of the power First Mother has blessed Shanji and our family with, nothing more."
Yesui had quickly gouged out the egg, and plucked a piece of shell from her mouth. "I don't remember doing it. I don't remember anything from that first time."
Mother reached over and put a hand on hers. "Oh, my sweet, the feelings inside you are so familiar to me: the time when I first saw myself as a changeling, then the way people revered me when I was healing them. You feel as I did when I went to Jensi City and saw the garden of miniatures dipicting my entire life, then the Church of The Mother, who they thought to be me, everyone carrying the little red books filled with sayings stolen from conversations I'd forgotten. They revered me, worshipped me. I found it frightening and appalling. I told them I was a servant of First Mother, an emissary, and only gradually over the years have most of them come to believe it. Our powers are supernatural to the people, Yesui, but it's up to us to show them our humanity, our oneness with them. We are special and human. I've accepted that, and found serenity in what I am. It's time for you to do the same."
Mother drew back, embaressed by her outburst, her eyes red for a moment, then quickly green again. She nervously fingered the collar of the black Moshuguang robe she wore. "Sorry, but I had to say that. It's been coming for a long time."
Yesui was stunned, but managed a wan smile. "Sooner might have been better. But you do understand. I don't want to be worshipped by anyone, Mother -- including Nokai."
"Ahhh," said Mother, leaning back in her chair. "Now we come to it."
Yesui wiped honey from her lips. "Sometimes I think he feels himself unworthy to marry me, yet the love inside him makes me ache."
"A very spiritual man, no doubt, and a devout believer in First Mother. It is She he worships, not you."
Mother's voice was nearly a whisper. "He is not ordinary, that man. His shield is inpenetrable when he wills it. A gentle soul, yes, but I sense great strength there, a power deep within him, without ego. Many Moshuguang have sensed it, including your grandfather. Nokai is respected by them, though they see his role as Ambassador as a friendly political gesture by Lan-Sui and Yesugen. Nokai, I think, is more than that. The two of you fell in love so quickly, so naturally. Sometimes I think forces other than love are involved."
Yesui frowned with the sudden return of a memory. "Do you remember that presence in the gong-shi-jie, the one I call 'Mind"?"
"The one who warned us away from the area of new star formation in Abagai's galaxy, yes."
"More than that to me, Mother. Also my teacher, my observer. She even said 'they' had been watching me, and you, for sometime. And when I was moving Lan-Sui City, she helped me while I was terrified over Nokai's safety. At one point she said, 'Find your man. That is very important to us'. I just remembered that."
"Oh, Yesui," said Mother, her eyes glistening. "There is a plan behind all of this -- and it comes from beyond our perception."
They spent several minutes in silence, each thinking about what that plan could be.
Yesui had arranged a flyer and a Moshuguang pilot for the short hop to Three Peaks. Tanchun had spent two hours combing out her long hair and fastening it near the scalp with a comb of red and green mollusk shell. She wore no jewelry and was dressed in the black robe of the Moshuguang, with matching soft-soled slippers for the climb to the shrine.
Two hours before sunset she went to the palace rail platform and met Nokai, who was the only passenger on the cable car. Nokai still wore his white robe, but had added a black sash of rough wool at the waist, giving him a less formal look. His eyes appraised her as he took her hand, and she felt warm all over. They sat down in silence, shoulder to shoulder for the half-minute ride to the flyer field above the palace. Two guards at the gate bowed and passed them through. A young Moshuguang in military blues bowed stiffly and smiled. "A lovely night for the flight," he said.
Forty flyers were lined up in four rows. Another sat in a circle of strobing yellow lights, and they went to that one, a circular aircraft four meters across, open cockpit with plas windshields rising a meter above the edges of metal. They sat in the seat directly behind the pilot and buckled up tightly.
"A new experience," said Nokai, but Yesui had felt his excitement before he said it. She held his arm as they lifted off, felt him tense then relax. They rose straight up to the dome, a panel sliding back to let them through, and suddenly cool evening air swirled around them.
The pilot banked the craft slightly as they headed south, and there was a brief glimpse of golden palace turrets and colorful buildings below them, then the blackened western valley mottled green with insistent new life poking through soil made glass. Yesui was reminded of the terrible purple light her mother had used to win the war bringing her to power. Could I do such a thing? she wondered.
Nokai turned, and smiled at her.
The flight seemed only slightly longer than their ride on the cable car. A rocky cliff passed below them, then the tops of trees, the smell of Tysk heavy in the wind. For just an instant they saw light reflected from the great lake far to the south, the place where the Tumatsen still lived their simple lives. Her mother's people -- and her people as well, yet Yesui hardly knew them. I've seen so little, she thought, and Nokai squeezed her hand.
"Perhaps we can see it together," he said, and she looked up at him, surprised, for she'd not felt any probe of her mind.
They descended toward a high plateau ringed with jagged peaks: Emperor's Thumb prominent to the east, the Three Peaks west. The colors on Three Peaks seemed like the work of a giant artist's brush. The east sides now turned grey in shadow, three steep fingers of rock interlaced at a single summit.
The flyer came down at the base of the peaks a few meters from an archway of glistening black polymer, and beyond it a paved path wound out of sight around a vertical rock face. "I will remain here as long as you wish," said the pilot, "but there's no lighting up there and a descent in total darkness can be quite dangerous."
"We'll be down before then," said Yesui. Once on the path, she looked back and saw that the pilot had settled into a back seat of the flyer for a nap.
The path quickly ended at the base of a narrow staircase carved right into the glassy rock, a steel handrailing on the outside edge, each step covered with rough material that grabbed at her slippers when they climbed. A warning sign indicated a climb of two hundred meters to the shrine and they took it slowly, neither of them experienced in vigorous physical activity.
The staircase spiraled upwards around one pinnacle, then crossed to another via a short, steel-mesh bridge and upwards again. There were three places along the way where niches were cut into the rock, each with a little bench on which to rest, all of which they used. The last bridge was near the summit, crossing a terrifying span of four meters with nothing but two hundred meters of air below them.
They came around a corner, the steps ending at a second gate in black polymer and a box where they were instructed to deposit slippers and shoes.
The pagoda was nestled within a triple summit of rock spires rising a few meters above its roof, resting on pillars driven into ground where grass and flowers had once grown. The steep roof rested on tall mahogany columns, an open structure with a circle of benches looking out on the plateau east and south and the distant dome of the city to the north. The mahogany floor was polished to a mirror finnish and at its center, rising from a circular golden plate covered with a hemisphere of glass, a blue flame burned brightly.
Nokai took her hand and they ascended three steps to the pagoda floor, where they watched the flame silently for a long moment.
It was not what she'd expected. "There's nothing here to tell the meaning of this place. How is it a shrine?"
"The blue flame is enough," said Nokai, "burning steadily, a sign of eternal energy. A simple, peaceful place of quiet serenity, a place of silence to turn inwards and examine oneself. It's lovely."
He turned, and cupped her chin in his hand, his brown-green eyes now so close. "Lovely -- like Yesui," he murmured, then kissed her softly, then firmly as her arms went around him. For seconds, the only sensation was physical, his lips on hers, the pounding in her chest, but suddenly they were together in another way, his feelings filling her.
Oh, Yesui, I love you so much. I need you so much.
And I love you. I want us to be together forever.
Their lips parted, Yesui pressing a cheek against his chest, Nokai's chin resting on top of her head.
"I -- I would be a very devoted husband, if you would have me, Yesui," he said. "It has been a year, now, time enough for you to decide if I'm suitable. I'll respect your decision, whatever it is."
"Suitable? Nokai, I love you. I want very much to be your wife."
His elation brought her to tears. Nokai wiped one tear away with a finger and kissed her softly again. Now her skin tingled powerfully and there was a buzzing in her ears, in her head, a new presence suddenly there with a powerful voice.
The blessings of First Mother are given to you and your offspring. May you nurture each other with love and share supportive strength in times of difficulty, both in this world and others. Know that we bless your union and watch over you at all times, for you are one with us and The Mother. Our love to you, Yesui and Nokai. We are most pleased.
Yesui clung to Nokai and opened her eyes. They were enveloped by a soft purple glow extending a meter from their bodies, which faded rapidly to nothingness as they watched. She looked up at Nokai, and he smiled at her.
"We are not alone," he said.
"We are never alone."
Copyright © 2002 by James C. Glass