Betrayed and attacked, the Clan fled the Trade Pact for Cersi, believing that world their long-lost home. With them went a lone alien, the Human named Jason Morgan, Chosen of their leader, Sira di Sarc. Tragically, their arrival upset the Balance between Cersi’s three sentient species. And so the Clan, with their newfound kin, must flee again.
Their starship, powered by the M’hir, follows a course set long ago, for Clan abilities came from an experiment their ancestors—the Hoveny—conducted on themselves. But it’s a perilous journey. The Clan must endure more than cramped conditions and inner turmoil.
Their dead are Calling.
Sira must keep her people from answering, for if they do, they die. Morgan searches the ship for answers, afraid the Hoveny’s tech is beyond his grasp. Their only hope? To reach their destination.
Little do Sira and Morgan realize their destination holds the gravest threat of all....
About the Author
For twenty years, Canadian author/ former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction, published by DAW Books, NY. With seventeen (and counting) novels and numerous short stories in print, she’s also written acclaimed fantasy. Her Night’s Edge series (DAW) began with A Turn of Light, winner of the 2014 Aurora Award for Best English Novel. A Play of Shadow followed, winning the 2015 Aurora. Julie’s edited/co-edited sixteen anthologies of SF/F, including the Aurora-winning Space Inc. and Under Cover of Darkness. Her most recent anthology is the 2017 Nebula Award Showcase, to be published May 2017. 2017 will also see the completion of Julie’s Clan Chronicles, with the conclusion, To Guard Against the Dark, in stores October 2017. Please visit www.czerneda.com.
Read an Excerpt
“THIS IS NEW.” If glaring could melt metal, the innocuous green wall in front of me would be a puddle. Of course, if anything about our present situation paid attention to what I wanted—I glared harder. Take a walk, I’d suggested. Have a precious moment alone, I’d thought. Was that asking too much?
Apparently so, hence the new wall. My hair, the ever-expressive feature of a Chosen Clanswoman, writhed against my back and shoulders. Even if I could control it, there was no keeping my aggravation from my Chosen, the barrier between our thoughts and emotions thinned when we were alone, as now.
Chuckling, Jason Morgan lowered his scanner. “New to us,” he concurred. “But according to these readings, this bulkhead could have been in place as long as anything on the ship. Impressive tech.”
Inconvenient, annoying—I’d a list. “Impressive” wasn’t on it.
When Sona Clan’s Cloisters had been a building with its foundation properly in the ground—half submerged in a swamp, to be exact—this wide corridor had spiraled up the levels used by the Om’ray. The corridor, like the rest of the building, was illuminated by strips of light where walls met the ceiling, walls featuring tall arched windows interspersed with framed panels on the outermost side, with a series of doors to small rooms on the inner.
When the Cloisters became a starship, more changed than its location. Along this corridor the lighting remained the same, but windows had disappeared behind green metal plates. The panels glowed in varied colors, linked by pulsating blue lines across walls and ceiling, lines that converged to wrap the frames of those now-sealed doors.
While behind those doors, filling what we’d believed spare, empty rooms, was seething darkness. The starship, built by the Hoveny, had been designed to draw power from the M’hir, something it could only do once we, their descendants, followed its instructions and brought the M’hir here to be harnessed.
All of which was quite reassuring in a building that roared its way into the sky and beyond so we could escape certain death.
What wasn’t? The starship, Sona, hadn’t stopped its self-modification. Once moving through subspace, walls like the one in our way began to appear, severing some rooms or, as now, sealing off stretches of corridor.
These paled beside other changes. Doors once locked now opened, with others sealed. Lifts stopped at levels previously unknown to any of the Om’ray Adepts on board.
The same lifts bypassed levels once in use; according to Morgan’s scanner, they’d been collapsed, as though the ship folded sheets for storage.
At least it waited until those spaces were empty—leading to a brief experiment where we left belongings everywhere, but the ship knew the difference between living and stuff and we only had so many socks—which wasn’t the point.
From early childhood, the Clan moved by pushing our bodies through the M’hir. So long as the distance, translated by the M’hir into subjective time, was within an individual’s strength, all we needed was a remembered place, called a locate.
Locates Sona kept removing.
Another reason, I thought grimly, we couldn’t trust the ship. Hadn’t its programming proved fallible already? When we—the M’hiray—first arrived, it had used a device called a Maker to forcibly alter our minds. It blocked our memories, giving us false ones to suit our new lives on Cersi, complete with skills and the local language. Being able to converse with our cousins, the Om’ray, had been vital; being transformed into eager farmers prepared to live near the Oud, when the land outside was Tikitik and a water-ruled jungle?
The error came close to costing our lives.
Fortunately, before it did, Morgan had saved us all. The Maker had no effect on his Human mind, and he’d helped us return to our former selves, though we retained the implanted information. With one exception. Me.
For some reason comprehensible only to the shipbrain, I remained its Keeper: the ancient ship’s sole conduit to those aboard. Another mistake, for the person who should be Keeper stood beside me, diligently running his scanner along the seam between new wall and old.
The supple brown vest Morgan wore, with its useful array of hidden pockets, was old, though still new to me. The beginning beard, dark brown with a trace of red in certain light was new to me as well, the why of it another mystery. Clan didn’t grow such facial hair; my Chosen may have sported a bristled chin on occasion, but never for long. As I’d grown to like the feel of it, I asked no questions.
Jason Morgan, however, would have a reason. He was careful and methodical by nature, leaving nothing to chance, traits that had made him a superb starship captain. More than anyone here, he understood space travel—and machines.
I’d a history of breaking them, especially any with plumbing, and suspected Sona had figured that out for itself. The ship had lifted on my command; it hadn’t obeyed me about anything more important than lighting since.
That didn’t stop me trying. I glared at the new wall. Sona, I sent, gaining the ship’s instant attention.
Keeper, what is your will? The reply wasn’t in mindspeech, not the sort we used. This was unsettlingly more as if the ship had stuck something in my head to allow me to receive a transmission.
Stop doing this!
The ship’s voice remained placid. I require specifics, Keeper. What is it you wish stopped?
Servo brain. I gave up. Nothing. Everything’s fine. Wonderful. Nine shipdays since leaving Cersi. Nine shipdays, I’d tried to argue with it. Tried commanding it to restore a level. Tried ordering the ship to shut itself down which, in hindsight, might not have been the right approach. It didn’t help having Morgan caution me, several times, to not ask it anything at all.
In case it finally decided to obey, that was.
“Tell me how this makes sense,” I muttered. “Why close off a perfectly useful corridor?” Except to be a nuisance, which by now wouldn’t surprise me.
Morgan tucked away his scanner and patted the wall approvingly. “My take? Sona’s conserving resources. It was built to carry more.”
The Fox had been “she,” but nothing about Sona was like our former home.
“How many more?” I’d led one hundred and ten M’hiray to Cersi, fleeing Trade Pact space. Eight had died within days, for Cersi proved no safer; worse, our coming led to disaster. The Oud decided to end their part of the Agreement and violently reshaped the world.
Of our cousins, the Om’ray, seventy-seven survived our arrival. Not our doing.
Our fault—my fault—all the same.
Two more had slipped away our first night in subspace, but they’d been Lost and already gone from us: Cha sud Kessa’at, once Chosen of Deni, and Ures di Yode, once Chosen of Tekla, the Sona scout who’d given her life in a futile attempt to save Deni from a clawed nightmare. That the final remnants of their minds stayed behind with their Chosen, in the M’hir around Cersi, was to me, a mercy.
None of us said it, but I knew the rest believed as I did, that we, the one hundred and seventy-eight now on board, were all that remained of the Clan.
Plus one Human.
Presently shaking his head, blue eyes somber. “Sira. Don’t.” We both knew, even if Sona could have transported thousands, it made no difference now.
I wrinkled my nose at him, but left the matter. “Have you marked our new wall on the map?” Anyone who discovered part of the ship reconfigured did so; even the Om’ray, who otherwise relied on their inner sense to navigate, understood the value of such warnings.
Morgan pulled the flat black disk of the placer from his vest pocket. “Already done.” Deni’s legacy, the Trade Pact device recorded spatial information. My Human used it to keep up with Sona’s modifications.
Modifications we didn’t control and couldn’t anticipate. “I hate losing more of the ship.”
He grinned. “Just because you can’t go ‘poof’ where you used to doesn’t mean Sona’s shrinking. There are lifts. Doors. Remember doors? Walking?”
“We don’t go ‘poof,’” I protested, but my lips twitched. As Hindmost on the Silver Fox, I’d learned ’porting inside a working starship had its risks, chief among them startling my captain when he was busy welding. He was right. The Om’ray wouldn’t care; most still preferred Morgan’s ‘walking.’ The M’hiray, though accustomed since childhood to going ‘poof,’ had resigned themselves to what couldn’t be changed.
I eyed the wall I couldn’t change, resolved to be sensible. “So, air on the other side?” We hadn’t found anything resembling a space-ready suit, nor tools to make one. We did have an abundance of knives and rope, not to mention seven fabric coats well-oiled against rain, but our technical resources consisted of the placer, Morgan’s scanners and assorted lethal equipment, plus some packs of archaeological equipment.
Next time I ran for my life, I’d grab a wrench.
“Temp’s dropping fast, but there’s air. Sona’s doors can’t open while in subspace,” he reminded me, that having been the only reassurance we’d gleaned from the ship. “So, Witchling.” Morgan took my chin between his finger and thumb. “What’s this about?”
A lock of my hair wrapped around his bare wrist and I felt myself sink into the uncanny warmth of his blue eyes, reactions he knew full well I couldn’t control. My Human wasn’t above cheating when he thought it in my best interest.
Two could play that game. I leaned forward, hair sliding around his shoulders and neck, pulling us together. Our lips were a breath apart, my own breathing deeper than an instant ago, when Morgan suddenly chuckled. “You’re mad at the ship again.”
I pulled back. My hair, disappointed, stroked his cheek as it withdrew, diluting the impact of my scowl. “I am not. It’s a machine.”
One you talk to, came another voice. I’d be angry at it, too.
Great-grandmother, I greeted, surprised to find her listening. Aryl di Sarc respected the rare moments I could be alone with my Chosen, fading to little more than a second, smaller heartbeat.
Her consciousness inhabited my unborn, a baby I shouldn’t have been able to conceive in the first place. Among other species, when a female reproduced on her own it was called parthenogenesis. For the M’hiray, the term was Perversion.
The Om’ray Adepts, however, considered such unborn to be Vessels, waiting to be filled. The Vyna Clan had taken that to the extreme of bottling themselves up before death, then installing such Glorious Dead into new Vessels, to be born again.
It was enough to want to be Human.
An opinion I didn’t share with Aryl. If she’d not tasted change in our future, a change dire enough to destroy worlds; if she’d not had the daunting courage to sacrifice her own future to prevent it, storing her consciousness; if she’d not entered what grew within me? We would not have found Cersi and saved as many as we had.
While I did my best not to think of the future, I also owed mine to Aryl. An empty Vessel wouldn’t leave the mother’s body; her presence meant I’d survive this pregnancy.
That Aryl spoke up now meant I’d been a bit too fervent in expressing my feelings and disturbed her. I owed her an apology. Instead, I tightened my shields.
“I am not mad at the ship,” I informed them both.
“Right.” Morgan’s grin broadened. He nodded the way we’d come. “Walk or poof?” fluttering his hands in the air.
Incorrigible, impossible...My temper hadn’t a chance. I held out my hand. “Walk,” I decided, laughing. I felt Aryl’s satisfaction before my sense of her faded.
After all, walking gave us more time alone.