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By L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1992 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
All rights reserved.
Think of a world of witches, of high technology and space travel, of science and superstition. A world on the verge of changing inhabitable planets into green pastures and endless forests, a world so short of energy resources that all fuels are grown or captured from the sun.
You say there is no such world? Or that it is only our world, dressed up for a storyteller's pleasure?
Set aside your doubts ... this world was as real as any you will know ... and learn about the timedivers' dawn. Perhaps it began here:
"Meryn." The slight, sandy-haired woman looked as though she carried perhaps a score of years, until she gazed upon one, and the darkness behind her eyes delivered the weight of centuries.
"Yes, Mother." The second woman, also slender and sandy-haired, could have been a twin to the first, except for the lesser depth of her eyes.
"There can be no more witches in Eastron. Not now. Not with the Empress of Westron's demands, and the weaknesses in the Duchy."
"But the Bardwalls still stand. ..."
"And they will, and you may always return to look upon them. You must make a place among the people of Westron and learn their technologies. Our time has gone and will not come again for centuries. Not until they have stripped the last metals from the ground. Not until they have been hurled from the skies."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Daughter, I know that Eastron is dying, and all the villagers and all the gentry will blame it on the witches. Because of the Duke our faces are too well known. So I will face the Empress with him, come what may, and you will survive."
There is no answer, for the older witch has vanished.
The younger woman looked around the retreat, then continued placing her few things in the pack, which will be all that she can carry on her instant yet long journey.
It seems so simple. It is not. It could have begun here as well:
One rock, then another, struck the whitewashed wall.
Their target, a stocky boy-child with strawberry blond hair, a dazed expression, and shoulders already overbroad, looked down from the low wall where he balanced. Looked down at the whitewashed surface where the rocks had struck near his feet, then back at the gathered handful of women, crippled veterans, and the priest.
"... like his mother ..."
"... dead ... thank Verlyt ...!"
"Suffer not a witch, nor a witch's child ..."
The boy looked from one face to another, back and forth, as if seeking reassurance.
One of the rocks struck his shoulder, hard enough to stagger him.
"Witch! Witch! Witch!" The chant began in earnest, echoing between the walls, drowning out the occasional low rumble of dry cloud thunder. Thunder that promised nothing but clouds that delivered no rain, no respite.
"Witch! Witch! Witch ...!"
Suddenly, the boy's dazed expression vanished and his face screwed up, as if he were about to cry. In a single motion, he tightened his lips and jumped down on the far side of the wall, away from the crowd, and began to run.
Pad, pad, pad, pad ...! The alleyway remained silent for an instant, the villagers momentarily silenced.
"Witch! Witch! Witch ...!" The chant took on an even more frantic note.
Some of the veterans dragged themselves over the wall and hobbled or ran, knives in the hands of those who still had hands, after the fleeing child. Others turned back into the main street and dashed around toward the other end of the alley into which the child had fled.
"Witch! Witch! Witch ...!"
Thud! Thud, thuuddd, thhuuuddd ...The heavy roll of the priests' drums supplemented the chant.
From huts and houses, from the vintners and the villas, the pursuers gathered, pounding down street and alley, tearing through house and hovel.
"There he is!"
"... witch-child ...!"
"SUFFER NOT A WITCH TO LIVE, NOR A WITCH'S CHILD!" boomed the amplified voice of the priest.
The boy, backed into a narrow niche between two walls behind the produce market, held a rock in each hand, waiting.
Crack! The first rock from a villager slapped against the wall.
Crack! Thud! Crack! Thud! The past experience of the rock throwers showed as stone after stone bounced against and around the boy.
He threw one stone back. It missed. He threw the other.
Overhead, the dry thunder rumbled, and the dry clouds churned.
A rivulet of blood dribbled down the boy's face, no longer expressionless, but filled with rage, even as the tears diluted his blood into pinkish streaks.
Crack! Thud! Thud!
"... damned witches ...! reclaimed their own ..."
The small niche in the walls was empty, vacant but for rocks and streaks of blood upon the walls.
"... YOU HAVE RECLAIMED YOUR BIRTHRIGHT FROM THE WITCHES THIS DAY ..." bellowed the amplifier.
A third of a world away, two soldiers paused by the roadside to investigate a heap of clothing.
"Kid ... been beaten ..."
"Frillen, now what? Another discarded sack that has to be an aggrebel?" The heavy-set and silver-haired forcer glared at the two as he spoke.
The trooper points. "Kid. Beaten. He's still breathing."
"He'll live. Put him in the rear freighter with Garchuk. He looks strong. The ConFed home will take him. Now, let's get moving."
The two troopers shrugged. One lifted the boy and marched toward the military freight steamer. The other followed the ConFed forcer.CHAPTER 2
"... And now, in the presence of the unknowable and the almighty, we wish you the greatest success in your striving to bring us all another world for all people, in peace, for our successors and their successors ..."
The face of the gray-haired and young-faced Emperor of Westron faded from the solideo link, to be replaced by the coat of arms of the Hrtallen.
"Rather impressive," observed the stocky man, his red hair somehow bushy in spite of its close-cropped nature.
"Isn't that the nature of royalty? To be impressive, I mean?" Her voice held an edge.
"That doesn't make young Hrtallen any less impressive. Besides, getting his formal support for the Mithrada planet-forming can't hurt once the initial enthusiasm dies down."
"Assuming he isn't the politician his mother was."
"I know. It had to be done. The Eastron anarchy was a danger to everyone, but did they have to be so damned thorough? All the time that white-haired and sweet-faced old harpy was displaying motherly concern, her peacemakers were rooting out anyone who could pronounce the word anarchy."
The Imperial coat of arms faded from the screen, to be replaced in turn by an official Imperial newscaster in the traditional blue and gold. "That was the sendoff speech of the Emperor, dedicating the unified Queryan mission designed to turn Mithrada into the second habitable planet within our solar system."
The view switched to an ancient circular brownstone tower, flying two banners, one the Westron flag, and the second bearing a sheaf of grain crossed with a single red flower — a ryall.
"But there are those who doubt the practicality and wisdom of tampering with the Mithradan ecosphere, such as it is. One of the doubters, here at the University of Vrecallitt, is Academician Terril Josset ..."
"Turn it off, Harlon," snapped Lorinda. "One thing worse than a sincere Emperor is an insincere and misguided academic."
The screen returned to a view of the stars before the Hope, as it edged inward toward the orbit of the sun's second planet, toward its mission to reform and cool the blistering wastes of Mithrada. To strip the heavy atmosphere and rebuild the planet in the image desired by men and women. To mine the only concentrations of metals within even impractical possibility, now that the thin outer asteroid belts had been stripped of what could be found.CHAPTER 3
I was born in Bremarlyn, which no longer exists, like most of the cities and towns of Westron, the great western continent. Then it stood about one hundred kays east of Inequital.
Bremarlyn had little to distinguish it except that it contained the regional revenue office of the Imperial Government. My father was a solicitor in the service of the crown, and he served as the local tax prosecutor of a government and a world that has passed into history.
My thoughts, scattered as they are, will be included in the sealed section of the Archives, while I still retain the power to ensure both their inclusion and the sealing of the records. Some things are best lost, but vanity being what it is, I have settled for censorship over oblivion. Anyone who does unlock the seals will, I trust, also read the factual supplements and data before coming to a final judgment on my follies.
Consecrated to the Temple as Sammis Arloff Olon, I still go by Sammis, although some persist in trying to distinguish me by using my original surname. That too shall pass, at least in another dozen millennia. Time flows more slowly these days, now that Query has left the seasons of the single-night moth and entered the long afternoon of the Immortals.
Why did it happen? How?
No one can answer the first question. As for the second, for me, it began with a dream.
In the dream I stood above four roads. There were no vehicles, no power wagons, no silent steamers, no gliding electrovans, just four roads.
One was gold, cold as the dark between stars.
One was black, and the heat rose from it as from the Grand Highway in summer.
One was red and smelled like memories.
And the last was blue, bright blue like tomorrow's dawn.
Despite the dream of these roads, then I had no special love of travel, nor do I yet. Everything I needed was in Bremarlyn — from the creek where I built dams to see how high I could raise the water behind my assembly of stones and sand to the fields where we played centreslot. No, I cannot say I had close friends, but we all played together most of the time, and, when we did not play, we fought.
In my first dream of the crossroads, I merely stood there paralyzed and unable to set foot on any road. Fear did not prevent me from taking that step. I could not move. Nor could I speak nor sigh. So I watched the four roads, somehow suspended above them, as each disappeared into its colored distance.
The four were not a crossroads exactly, and in the distance that was not distance, each split and splintered into hundreds of different directions, until each created its own horizon — blue, red, black, and gold. Yet all directions were the same, and every road went in all directions.
Wherever I was, watching the roads, it was cold, bone-chilling cold.
Then, abruptly, as I wished to return to my bed and its comfort, I was there, sprawled on cold quilts. Cold quilts, as if I had not been sleeping there during my dream.
Feeling exhausted, though I had done nothing in my dream but watch, I slept ... deeply. And I did not dream. Not then.
While I seldom remembered most of my dreams, the four roads remained with me, with their promise of anticipation and memory, heat and chill, long after I had roused myself from my quilts, long after I pulled on my Academy uniform and trudged off to classes.CHAPTER 4
"Malfunction on sensor, alpha three, quad four, red." The metallic tone of the speaker reverberated through the module.
The monitoring officer's fingers seemed to meld with the keyboard while she accessed the network controlling the defective sensor. Her eyes widened as the data scripted out on the bluish screen before her. The sensor showed a temperature of 3° absolute positive, barely above absolute zero. On Mithrada, less than 120 million kays from the sun, that was patently impossible, not on a planetary surface so hot that water had never occurred in liquid form.
Shaking her head as if to clear her thoughts, she keyed the reset function.
The remote readings from the sensor on the planet below remained the same, long after the fractional units it took for the reset command to travel to the remote command network on the high plateau of Mithrada's northern hemisphere.
She took one deep breath, then another, before glancing at the sealed portal that separated the monitoring module from the rest of the planetary reformation station.
"Malfunction on sensor, beta six, quad three, orange. ...
"Malfunction on sensor, gamma three ..."
"Malfunction on sensor, omicron eight ..."
The console before her blazed with maroon malfunction lights, bright points of brilliance that seared at her senses.
"Malfunction on sensor, delta four ..."
With a sigh, she returned her attention to the original malfunctioning sensor and keyed the reset function again. And waited, ignoring the rising maroon tide that turned the module twilight-colored. And waited.
The sensor now registered a reading of 60° AP with a trend rate indicating a return to normal, for Mithrada, of close to 800° AP within one standard unit.
"Malfunction on sensor ..."
The number of maroon lights continued to increase, even as the temperature on the first sensor continued to rise.
The monitoring officer ignored the more recent failures, finally blanking the row of screens above her on which the lights had flared. Then she returned her attention to the first failure, shaking her head slowly.
"Lorinda? What in Hell is going on planetside?" The intercom speaker carried a male voice.
"Tell you in a demistan. It looks like an impossible planetary cold wave." Her voice was hard, clipped, her eyes still on the sensor data.
"A cold wave? Are you all right?"
"Stop patronizing me, Harlon. This many data points don't lie. We've lost all temperature-sensitive remotes in four dozen subsectors. They all showed near-instantaneous temperature drops of 800 degrees."
"Malfunction in sensor, epsilon five ...
"Malfunction in sensor ..."
Lorinda cut off the audio warning system.
"Did you hear those, Harlon? Tell me which is less impossible — identical malfunctions of nearly a hundred randomly located sensors on eight different remote nets ... simultaneously? Or one hundred severe temperature anomalies?"
"The whole system must be shot to hell ..." came his reply.
"That could be, but there's an easy enough way to check. Have meteorology check the changes in surface winds. If it's not the sensors, there will be severe local changes."
"You think so?"
"I know so ... if it's climate-caused. Check it out."
She shifted her monitoring to another early malfunction, which showed the same pattern of abrupt heat loss, followed by a gradual return toward normal Mithradan levels.
Her fingers began a series of calculations, based on the proximity of the apparent temperature drops to each other. With each input, and the resultant analysis, the frown on her face became more severe.
She removed the damper from the bank of display screens, and the module turned twilight-purple again. The light was so depressing that she immediately reblanked the screens. Lorinda hesitated a moment when the last screen analysis scripted out in front of her. Then she touched the intercom.
"Control central, this is monitoring. Analysis of sensor malfunction patterns indicates event is planet-based and not created from system failure."
"How do you know, monitoring?"
"Analysis of temperature gradients between malfunctions. Something ... somethings ... are acting like an absolute heat sink."
"Infraheat scan supports that, control central. So does preliminary met data ..."
"Great ... so rather than an understandable catastrophic equipment malfunction, we now have an impossible natural occurrence."
Lorinda shook her head in the privacy of the monitoring module. Not impossible — it had happened. And certainly not natural. Of that, she was all too sure.CHAPTER 5
The scientist in the pale blue tunic ran her left hand through her short-cut sandy hair, then tapped the light stylus on the console.
Looking up for a moment around the small windowless room, she pursed her lips. The gesture gave her face an elfin cast, which vanished as she concentrated and touched the keyboard.
On the screen before her, a title appeared in the formal script of Westra: "Project Vanish — Case III."
Excerpted from Timediver's Dawn by L. E. Modesitt Jr.. Copyright © 1992 L. E. Modesitt, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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