Authors: Gillian Andrews
(AMMONITE GALAXY, BOOKS 4-5)
Please skip this section if you have read the first three books in the Ammonite Galaxy series, or the first omnibus,
omnibus edition starts after Book Three,
, and here is a brief introduction to the story so far and the characters ...
, Six and Diva were taken to Valhai as donor apprentices, where the Sellites planned to use their cells as a commodity - and then kill them. First they are obliged to enter an intensive education program run by Atheron, head of the teaching house. Grace, the sister of the man running the donor apprentice program, discovers what is happening and ventures out onto the planet surface, something that is not done in her society. She knows that Six and Diva are being held in the orthogel lake, but has no idea that her brother plans to kill them. This is how she meets Arcan, a quantum being who helps her to rescue Six and Diva, although she herself is considered a traitor to her people for saving them. Unfortunately, they are not in time to prevent all Diva’s oocytes from being forcibly removed by surgery and used to engender 154,782 children on Xiantha, where the flares from the red dwarf, Almagest, have made reproduction almost impossible. Grace’s mother, Cimma, who has been mentally unstable after the death of her husband, Xenon 48, helps them but is wounded; and Amanita, who is the wife of Grace’s brother, Xenon 49, is extremely bitter about the downfall of the donor apprentice house. The Sellites, led by Mandalon, try to destroy Arcan but the orthogel entity is able to transport away to Coriolis, Diva’s home planet. Diva’s parents, Maximus and Indomita, show little pleasure in seeing their daughter again. Diva is now unable to have children, which puts the succession of Coriolis in danger. Maximus sentences Grace, Six and Diva to be thrown to the Tattula cats, but Indomita steps in to save them, although this will estrange her from her husband. The three friends then travel to Six’s home planet, Kwaide, to look for his sisters, who he was forced to leave behind when sent to Valhai. Finally, they find one of them, but she has married a Kwaidian Elder. She is no longer considered to be a no-name, and is not allowed any further contact with her brother.
Back on Coriolis, Arcan has become ill. He only just manages to transport himself and the friends back to Valhai. But he seems to be getting worse, and Grace turns to Vion, a doctor who has helped her before, for a solution. Arcan cannot transport them now, but the friends manage to climb the Sellite skyrises from the outside in order to get the antidote for his condition, and are just in time to save him.
, the friends help the other downtrodden Kwaidians like Six to become independent from the Elders, and meet the visitor - a small being who comes from Dessia, a faraway world. They are supported by many of the no-names, particularly Ledin, who will play an important role in Grace’s life, and Grace’s own mother, who is determined to help train the rebels in combat. The Sellites side with the Elders, and Atheron kidnaps Six, who is the ringleader of the rebels. Diva and Grace manage to steal a Sellite spaceship and rescue Six. Atheron arranges the convenient death of Mandalon 49, leaving a mere 10-year-old boy, Mandalon 50, in charge of Valhai. Atheron believes that he will be able to manipulate the boy and become the real leader of the Sellites. The Sellites eventually decide to use nuclear weapons on the no-names in order to finish the civil war, but Arcan helps Six to remove most of the bombs. .Some get through despite their best efforts, and Six rescues Diva from certain death in the wreck of her shuttle in the uninhabitable zone Grace also discovers that her own brother is quite prepared to kill her if it suits his own plans. She gets the better of him, managing to salvage the Kwaide Orbital Station for the rebels. This will prove key to the final battle, in which Solian and Gerrant sacrifice themselves so that Grace can succeed in the mission. Both sides realize that whoever has control of the space station will be able to control the future. Six’s sisters take the other side of the hostilities, and are used as human shields by the Elders. Back on Valhai, Arcan has to agree never to transport directly to Kwaide, but manages to convince the binary system that he has the rights to Valhai. He agrees to let the Sellites stay for another 1000 years, which is only a short time to him.
Grace’s brother and Atheron, now the head of Sell, plan to use Grace to attack the orthogel entity, Arcan. Atheron also has plans to kill Mandalon 50, the boy leader of Sell, and take over what he considers to be his rightful place as leader of the Sells.
First, the friends travel to Pictoria, a distant planet, where they find that Arcan is dimly related to the ortholiquid, an archaic lifeform which forms symbioses with other living beings to survive. These simple lifeforms are known as amorphs, and are formed from the ortholiquid and the indigenous prehistoric birds called avifauna. Back on Xiantha, they meet the canths, large equines who have also formed a symbiotic relationship with the lost animas of Xiantha, mythical beings who are rumoured to have arrived on the planet long ago. They discover that the lost animas are in fact of common origin with Arcan, and can be reached mentally, too.
Diva wants to meet some of the children she unwillingly engendered on Xiantha, and the friends visit the donor headquarters there. They discover 50 oocytes which have not been used, and Diva asks Six to provide the genetic material for these last 50 children to be engendered. He is unwilling, but agrees. Diva has forgotten that these children will be consented on her part, and so eligible as heirs to the meritocracy of Coriolis. It also means that Six becomes her unwilling consort. Atheron and Xenon 49, Grace’s brother, capture Grace and take her up the dark Xianthe, a visit around the towering mountain which reaches up into space. When they reach Lightning Corner, she is tossed out to fall to her death. However, opening the safe cage to do this is the downfall of Atheron and Xenon, who are destroyed by a lethal blast of lightning.
Grace would have been killed, but the others manage to reach the canths, and they are able to contact the visitor, who sacrifices himself and his spaceship to save her, though she suffers from severe frostbite, and loses many of her fingers. Her sister in law, Amanita, tries to revenge the death of her husband by killing Grace, but is unsuccessful. The visitor is sentenced to death by the Dessites, but Arcan manages to extract him at the last moment, and he becomes a morphic entity, a combination of the ortholiquid, the orthogel and the visitor himself.
Grace goes back to the Emerald Lake, on Xiantha, to recover, and realizes that she misses one person in particular.
—The story now continues ...
(BOOK FOUR IN THE AMMONITE GALAXY SERIES)
This book is dedicated to anybody who, like me, is still on a quest.
SOME EIGHT MONTHS after her previous visit to Xiantha, Grace walked out of the Xianthan spaceport and smiled around at the dry landscape waiting for her. She took in a deep breath of air, and then turned to stare for a moment to the north. Her head moved up as she tracked the towering spike of the dark Xianthe which was soaring up to lose itself in the clouds. She was caught for many long seconds, reliving part of the fall which had nearly killed her, remembering what had happened in the cage at Lightning Corner. She sighed, and found herself looking down at her mangled hands. All these months later, they were smooth and tanned instead of black and covered with blisters. But nothing could hide the ugly stumps which truncated her fingers. Nothing could take away the fact that she had lost three whole digits and the top joints of another two.
Then her eye caught sight of a small band of rexelene which was nestling on her right ring finger. As a Kwaidian friendship ring, it should have been on the ring finger of her left hand, but that was one of the missing digits. So she had been obliged to slip it over the shortened tip of the right ring finger. Now it shone gently in the sunlight of Xiantha, and the sight of it calmed her down. It was a reminder of a warm and generous loyalty, of a protective shield of care which enveloped her and kept her safe wherever she went.
She wondered how Ledin was. He had been called back to Kwaide. He had been needed to run the orbital station there. They had only had three weeks together on Valhai; three weeks to make plans and to decide their future together. Not that it mattered, he was with her wherever she went. Sometimes she thought it was a solid physical presence, and not just an imagined mental link.
Grace twisted the plain ring with the thumb and index finger of her left hand, and looked back up again at the jagged peaks of the two Xianthes. She gave a slow smile, and then walked out into what served as a street.
“Grace! Over here! Hurry up, will you!” Diva was jumping up and down, waving her hands, and clearly excited to see her friend again. “We brought your canth too! We can go straight back to the lake! It is going to be like old times again! I came over from Coriolis two days ago, but was stuck on my own until now – Six has only just arrived from Kwaide today, too.”
“I can’t believe the babies have been born! You and Six are parents! That sounds really strange.” Grace’s face was illuminated by a smile. None of the three friends had seen each other for months, and they were anxious to catch up. Grace herself had been too busy on Valhai trying to sort out Arcan’s foundation. She gave the Coriolan girl a huge hug, and then turned to Six, who was standing behind Diva, and put her arms around his neck.
“Tell me about it! Here, Grace, no need to suffocate me! If you do that to Ledin I’m not surprised he’s gone back to Kwaide.”
She gave him a fake punch on his shoulder. “He’s coming over next week. He has a month’s vacation. New Kwaide has implemented a system of regular rest periods now.”
“Are you going to spend all of it here, on Xiantha?”
Grace shook her head. “Only the first half. I really need to get back to Valhai after that. Aracely gets a bit nervous if I am not around to take most of the decisions. We’ll spend the other two weeks on Valhai. Have you seen the children yet?”
Six shook his head. “We have to wait for them to send a magsled for us. They want to be sure all the babies are doing well first. They thought sometime this week.”
As they left Grace caught sight of the same vaniven cart which they had used on previous occasions. Its driver was staring at them with a strong measure of disappointment. It seemed that someone, at least, was not too pleased that they now had canths they could ride around on.
BACK BY THE Emerald Lake on Xiantha, the days were perfect. Although only eight months had passed since those first therapeutic swims in the lake, Grace knew that she had recovered much of her strength. She was able to swim fairly well now, and though she had to use both hands to hold her catana when they practiced hand-to-hand combat, she had much more skill than before. It was a slow process, but she was finally coming to terms with her disability.
The three friends were walking back from a search for sweetfruit one afternoon, laughing and joking with each other, when they saw a magsled skimming down the path to the shore. Diva and Six exchanged glances.
“What?” asked Grace, who had been sidetracked by the blue flashes of lake between the trees.
“It’s time to go.”
“Go? Go where?”
“To … err … Eletheia.”
Grace looked from one to the other with a puzzled look, and then her face cleared. “Oh! You mean the babies – the Donor Headquarters. You are both … Wow!”
“Are you sure you want to come with us? They are taking us to meet the …” Six was finding himself tongue-tied for the first time in his life.
“Of course she is coming. We can hardly leave her here on her own. She will probably get herself eaten by the first ten-legged decipus which comes along,” said Diva in a tone she usually reserved for children or dumb animals.
“I would not!” protested Grace. “I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself, thank you very much!” Then, as an afterthought, “Ten-legged decipuses don’t really exist do they?”
“Decipi,” corrected Six.
“Bless you!” said Diva.
“I wasn’t sneezing, I was telling you the correct plural of decipus, dummy!”
Diva stared at him unbelievingly. “Did you just call me ‘dummy’?” she asked.
“What if I did?” He jerked his chin up in a provocative manner.
“Just wanted to be clear, is all—” And she flung herself sideways at him. He gave a yelp of surprise and stepped quickly back, trying to avoid her. Unfortunately the grass off the path was treacherous; he twisted his ankle and went sprawling into a patch of yellow mellowbells. He landed on his rump, lay winded for a split second and then leapt up and advanced on Diva with such a menacing expression that even Diva found herself jumping hastily backwards, the satisfied chortle she had been about to utter drying in her throat.
Grace put herself between them. “If you two have quite finished, these gentlemen are waiting.” She pointed to the two Xianthans who were watching their antics with great interest. Six grinned, and Diva tried to feign a regret she clearly did not feel.
Diva looked severely at Grace. “There is no point arguing, Grace. You are coming with us, and that’s that.”
Grace grinned. “Of course I am coming. I wouldn’t miss meeting your children for anything in the world.”
They walked over to check on the canths they were leaving behind to forage for themselves. The animals were knee deep in good quality grass, so they would be perfectly all right, at least for the rest of the day.
“Decipi!” whispered Six to Grace as they made their way back towards the magsled.
“Don’t pay any attention, Grace,” said Diva serenely. “He has overlooked one little detail.”
“Oh yeah? And what’s that?”
“If he’s right, then he is about to be the father of 50 nomi!”
Six glared at her. “Very funny. As you can see, I am rolling about on the floor with mirth at your witty joke.”
“Well, I hope being a father isn’t going to ruin your sense of humour!”
“No, being married to you is bound to do that!”
She gasped. “I like that!”
“Good. I rather thought you would. Any girl would be bound to like being married to me.” He preened.
“No, I didn’t mean—!”
He looked at her with some severity. “Really Diva, you should say what you mean.”
She gave a strangled squawk which sounded just like one of the avifauna from Pictoria, and then lifted her chin as high as she possibly could, looking down her nose at him as she swept regally in the direction of the magsled. He clowned about kowtowing to her and pretending to pull on his forelock until she rolled her eyes and got aboard. Taking this as a considerable victory, Six climbed up after her, and then reached down to grasp Grace by a slim wrist and give her some help. She still found many things awkward to accomplish with only her own battered hands.
THEY WALKED INTO the nursery at the Donor Headquarters in Eletheia with some trepidation. Six, at least, had no idea what to expect. He hadn’t come across many babies in his chequered life; being thrown out into the uninhabitable zone at four had limited his experience in that direction. He was surprised to find his heart pounding as he looked down at the neat lines of cots with his children in them. They seemed terribly fragile to his eyes.
“Are they always that small?” he asked Grace.
“What were you expecting? Something the size of a space shuttle?”
“No. But … they look as if they would break very easily.”
Diva gave him a look. “Not with my genes, they won’t,” she said.
Diva muttered under her breath.
“What was that?” he demanded.
“I said the Kwaidian phenotype is bound to be recessive.”
“And all your genes will be dominant, I suppose!”
She shrugged and tossed her head, which only served to make him angrier.
“Look at that one!” he said gleefully. “It has the same colour eyes as me! Hah!”
Diva shook her head. “You don’t know much, do you, no-name? All children are born with eyes that colour. They change over time. That baby will end up looking just like me.”
Six glanced in Grace’s direction, but she only lifted her shoulders. It was not a subject she had much knowledge of either. He turned to the Xianthan functionary who was in charge.
“A change is possible,
Six,” the man who contrived children said. “But the whole concept of dominant and recessive genes is not a very accurate picture. Many other things, such as single nucleotide polymorphisms have to be taken into consideration as well, and—”
“There you are then, Diva,” said Six, having heard enough to argue, “you have forgotten to take your single nucleotide polymorphisms into account. Told you so!”
Grace was gazing at Six. He had held out the fingers of his left hand out to the baby nearest to him, and the baby was clutching at the middle finger with its whole hand. For a short moment she thought she could feel the tiny touch of the baby on her own middle finger, as convincing as if it were real – a butterfly touch of soft skin on hers. She had to look down to convince herself that she was imagining it – for a moment her brain had deceived her into believing that she still had that digit. But that particular finger was one of the ones she had lost after the long, long fall from the Xianthe six months ago. She shook her head, filled with an intense feeling of disappointment. The doctor had explained all about mirror neurons to her, but that really didn’t make things all that much easier, she found. She saw that Six was looking at her with a quizzical expression, and put both hands behind her back, like a child who had been caught playing with something he shouldn’t.
“Everything all right, Grace?” he asked.
She nodded. “They are beautiful children. You are both very lucky.”
A large smile covered Six’s whole face. “Who could have guessed that only a year after the final battle for Kwaide I would be the father of 50 children?” He drew in a long breath and seemed to puff out with pride as he looked down on the rows of cots.
“It doesn’t matter who they look like, Diva,” he told her in a magnanimous voice. “They still belong to both of us!”
“What is going to happen to them?” asked Grace, bending over one cot to smile at a tiny baby girl who was blissfully asleep with closed and perfect eyelids peacefully shut against the world.
The man who contrived children answered that. “They will be farmed out to adopting parents here on Xiantha; that is part of the process. The
will be able to visit them whenever they want, and, once they reach four, all of the children will be allowed two weeks per year when they can visit with their real parents. The only stipulation is that they mustn’t leave Xiantha until they are of age.”