“Normally, I’d let you go as well, and watch with pleasure as your fancy friends all fall away, hedging their promises, leaving you with a tiny apartment and job, and vague tales to tell one winter child—about when you rubbed elbows with the mighty. But I won’t be around for that bliss, so I’ll have another. The Persim owe me a favor!”

Maia whispered. “You hate me. Why?”

“Truth?” Odo answered in a low, harsh voice. “Jealousy of the hearth, varling. For what you had, but I could not.”

Maia stared silently.

“I knew him,” Odo went on. “Virile, summer-rampant in frost season, yet with the self-control of a priestess. I thought vicarious joy would suffice, by setting him up at Beller House, with both Bellers and my younger siblings. Yet my soul stayed empty! The alien wakened in me a sick envy of my own sisters!” Odo leaned forward, her eyes loathing, “He never touched you, yet he was and remains yours. That, my rutty little virgin, is why I’ll have a price from my Lysos-cursed clan, which I served all my wasted life. Your company in hell.”

The words were meant to be chilling. But in trying to terrify, Odo had instead given Maia a gift more precious than she knew.

… he was and remains yours …

Maia’s shoulders squared and her head lifted as she gave Odo a final look of pity that clearly seared. Then she simply turned away.

“Don’t try to leave!” Odo called after her. “The guards have been told. …”

Odo’s voice trailed off as Maia left the muted room and its bitter occupant. She descended the drafty stairway, but instead of turning toward her room, she continued down one more level to the ground floor, and then crossed a wide, dimly lit atrium beneath statues depicting several dozen identical, joyless visages. She pulled the handle of an enormous door, which opened slowly, massively.

Cool garden air washed her face, cleansing foul odors of smoke and wrath. Maia stepped onto a wide gravel drive and looked up at the sky. Winter constellations glittered, save where the luminous dome of the Great Temple cast a bright halo, just over the next rise. City lights sprawled below the acropolis, along both banks of a black ribbon of river crisscrossed by many bridges.

The driveway dropped gently through an open park, then past a grove of ancient, Earth-stock trees, ending at last with a wrought-iron gate set in a high wall. Maia approached without stealth. A liveried sentry stepped out of the guard booth, offering a slight, quizzical bow.

“Can I help you, miss?” the stocky, well-muscled woman asked.

“I’m leaving.”

The guard shook her head. “Dunno, miss. It’s awfully—”

“Do you have orders to stop me?”

“Uh… not since a few days ago. But—”

“Then kindly do not stand between another daughter of Stratos and her rights.”

It was an invocation she recalled from a var-trash novel, which seemed ironically apropos. The keeper shifted uncertainly from foot to foot, and finally shuffled to the gate. As it swung open, Maia thanked the attendant and stepped through, arriving on a strange street, in a strange city, barefoot in the dead of night.

Of course Persim Clan wanted it this way. She was no longer needed, an embarrassment, in fact. But murder was risky. What if it restoked the waning sailors’ strike? What if her disappearance prodded the lazy machinery of the law past some genteel threshold of tolerance? This way, the Persims might even solve their predicament in Odo, who had outlived her usefulness to the clan. Maia’s escape might provoke that broken piece of the hive to end things neatly, skirting a degrading ritual of sentencing and punishment.

I’m still being used, Maia knew. But I’m learning, choosing those uses with open eyes.

And now… what will I choose?

Not to be the founder of some immortal dynasty, that much she knew. A home and children were still fond hopes, as was warmth of the heart and hearth. But not that way. Not by the cool, passionless rhythms of Stratos. If Leie chose that route, good luck to her. Maia’s twin was smart enough to start a clan, with or without her. But Maia’s own goals went beyond all that now.

Earlier, she had declared herself free of duty to the legacy of Lysos. That assertion had nothing to do with returning to ancient sexual patterns, or preferring the bad old terrors of patriarchy. Those were separate issues, in her mind already settled.

What she had decided was that, if she could not live in a time of openness, of ideas and daring, then she could at least behave as if she did. As if she were a citizen of a scientific age.

She wasn’t alone. Others surely had the same thing in mind. Brill had hinted as much. The “token” concession won by the guilds—regaining for men the right to fly—would change Stratos over time, and there were doubtless other moves afoot to nudge society in subtle ways. Gradually diverting the ponderous momentum of a dragon.

Renna set things in motion. And I had a role, as well. For both his sake and mine, I’ll keep on having one.

Still, the Upsala and the Nitocris might be surprised by her reaction, when they made her an offer. She would listen, politely. But, on the other hand…

Why not do what I want, for a change?

It was the final irony. She faced the challenges of independence willingly, equipped, to stand on her own, while at the same time ready to share her heart. It seemed a natural stage in her personal renaissance, cresting from adolescence to true adulthood.

Stratos might take a while longer, but worlds, too, must waken from dreamy illusions of constancy. The cradle built by Lysos no longer protected, but constrained.

Reaching a turn in the road, Maia came upon an overlook facing west. There, slowly setting beyond the mountains, was the great nebula that Stratoins called the Claw—known in Phylum space as God’s Brow. Somewhere in the cold, empty reaches between, vast crystalline ships were bearing down to finish an isolation that Lysos must have known would end, in time. Only then would it become clear if humans had achieved a kind of wisdom here, a new pattern of life worthy of adding to a greater whole.

Suddenly, the surroundings were illuminated by a sharp glow from above. Maia turned to look upward, where a single, starlike glimmer pulsed, throbbing rhythmically as it brightened, until it shone more radiant than any moon, or even summer’s beacon, Wengel Star. Wave-like patterns of color stabbed her eye, causing her to squint in wonder.

At first, Maia felt she had this marvel to herself, amid a city of a hundred thousand souls. Then came sounds—doors banging open, people flooding out of houses and holds, murmuring as they faced skyward and stared. Women, children, and the occasional man, spilled into the streets, pointing at the heavens, some fearfully, others in growing awe.

It took hours before anyone was certain, but by dawn all could tell. The spark was moving away. Leaving the folk of Stratos alone again.

For a time.


This book began with a contemplation of lizards. Specifically, several species from the American Southwest that reproduce parthenogenetically—mothers giving birth to daughter clones. Perfect copies of themselves.

From there, I discovered aphids, tiny insects blessed with two modes of reproduction. During periods of plenty and stability, they self-clone, churning out multiple duplicates like little Xerox machines. But when the good times end, they quickly swing back to old-fashioned sexual mating, creating daughters and sons whose imperfect variety is nature’s mortar of survival.

These miracles of diversity prompted me to wonder, “What if humans could do the same?”

Вы читаете Glory Season
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