Authors: Cynthia Garner
Tags: #Romance, #Fantasy, #Fiction / Romance - Paranormal, #Paranormal, #Fiction
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irina lan Maro set a small plate in front of her cousin and smiled to see him start in on the slice of chawberry pie. He ate with the same gusto as when he was a youngster. She took a seat in the dining alcove and cut into her own piece of pie.
Her living quad consisted of sleeping quarters, a central living area that could double as a guest room, a small scullery, and a dining alcove. She’d been allotted this quad once her conscription with the Talisian global security forces had been fulfilled. Ten years she’d been out, ten years of making a living by doing some of the same kind of work she’d done in the service. Only now she did it as a private citizen, providing security consultation to local enforcement officers.
Sirina looked at her cousin. His normally verdant skin seemed pale, a sure sign he was agitated about something. His eyes kept straying to the row of still images she had on her small workstation in the main living area.
She leaned over and put her hand on his, halting the motion of him scraping the last swirls of pie filling onto his utensil. “Natchook, what is it? What’s wrong?”
He pushed away from the table and walked to where the pictures were. He gazed at an image of their squad in their tan desert uniforms. The four members of the elite team stood straight, arms around each other, wide smiles curving their mouths. With his index finger he traced the features of the other woman in the group of four, and sadness pierced Sirina like the bite of a giant pincer. Yura lan Xarchai, her best friend and Natchook’s wife.
She and Yura had grown up together here on Avasa, a colony of the much larger planet Talis. As such, they had been second-class citizens, conscripted into service in defense of their ruling planet. Natchook, who was part Talisian, had already served for five years by the time she and Yura joined.
Shortly after their arrival in the service, Yura and Natchook had fallen in love. They’d been allowed to marry and serve in the same unit. Three years later, when Sirina’s brother, Kester, was drafted, he, too, became part of their squad.
Kester at first balked at the idea of serving as a combatant. The last place a pacifist like her brother wanted to be was in the armed services. But the longer he served, the more he came to appreciate the discipline he learned. It helped him control his compulsive behaviors. That there had been peace between the planets also helped, so his anxiety-induced disorder was easier to handle. His constant access to a behavior modification expert hadn’t hurt, either.
After Sirina and Yura had satisfied their requisite eight years, they’d been released from service. Natchook had taken his retirement soon after. Kester, enjoying the regimentation the security force provided, had decided to make a career of it.
They should have all lived out their lives happy and healthy. Only it hadn’t gone that way for Yura. Three years ago, after a lingering illness, she had died. Sirina still missed her, though time had softened the pain, and she knew Natchook missed her, too.
“Kai Vardan is responsible for Yura’s death, you know.” Natchook picked up the still image and stared down at it. Sirina knew he had eyes only for his deceased wife. “Someone should make him pay. Someone…” He trailed off, his jaw flexing as he tried to control his emotions. “Someone needs to kill the bastard.”
“Are you crazy? No, someone does
need to assassinate Kai Vardan.” Sirina stared in shocked horror at her cousin. She knew he blamed the Talisian leader for what happened to Yura, but this… this was insane. “What would make you say that? Have you heard something?”
His gaze darted to her before he again looked down at the image. “I haven’t heard anything. I just think it would do everybody a big favor if someone did.”
Even talking about the assassination of a world leader was treasonous. “Look, I realize you’re upset, but this isn’t the way to resolve your grief. Visit with the priests at—”
“Don’t you think I’ve gone through all the grief rituals and sought counseling? I have. Several times.” Natchook surged to his feet. “Vardan killed Yura. Someone needs to make him pay.”
“He did not kill her. She died because of a regulation that’s been in place for centuries.” Sirina put one hand on his shoulder. “Yura was Avasan. Talisians get service at hospitals before Avasans, you know that.”
“I’m a citizen of Talis. She was my wife, and she was sick. She should have gotten tests. A diagnosis. Treatment!” He shrugged off her hand. “Our Most Benevolent Leader,” he said with a sneer, “could have taken action when this regulation went to referendum fifteen years ago during his tenure as a member of parliament. Once he became world leader, he could have pushed to change the legislation. He
have…” He turned away, one hand going to his face.
She knew he fought back tears. He’d loved Yura with a fierceness Sirina had never known. And he still did, all these years later.
Natchook turned again to face her. His eyes were wet, his face hard. “It’s not just the health-care edicts. There are many laws that disadvantage Avasans. Laws that are equally unjust. They’ve been unjust for centuries. Yet no one seems bothered by it. They just accept it.
just accept it.” His lips curled with disdain. “She was your best friend, Sirina. Surely that meant something to you once.”
“Of course it meant…
something.” She scowled. “And don’t you try to make me out to be the villain in this. I’m Avasan. I have no vote. No voice. What could I have done to change anything?”
“Maybe you couldn’t have done something then. But now…”
“No.” She slashed one hand through the air. “Killing the Talisian leader isn’t going to solve anything. It will just make things worse.”
“Wait, just listen to me.” His voice lowered and took on a pleading tone, but she heard the dark intensity that rode beneath the surface. He went back to the dining alcove and sat down, waiting until she retook her seat before going on. “This one thought has been rolling around in my mind for years now: Righteous men live in peace and think they’re free; only the enlightened can know true peace through anarchy and chaos.” His eyes glittered with fanatic fervor. He tapped one finger on the table. “That’s the key, Sirina. Overthrow the government by ushering in anarchy and chaos.”
“Natchook, no!” She grabbed his hand. Ice crawled from her belly up her throat. This idea of his was deranged, and he scared her with his sincerity. “You listen to
. Kai Vardan didn’t pass the laws that keep Avasa under Talis’s rule. He wasn’t the one who kept moving Yura’s name to the bottom of the list for medical treatment—”
“She never got the chance for
!” He jerked his hand away and sat back in his chair. “Because of these archaic, discriminatory edicts, a Talisian with a hangnail gets to see a physician before any Avasan, no matter how sick they are.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“Right. The next time you get sick and can’t get in to see a doctor and just keep getting sicker and sicker, you tell me you still think that way.” He leaned forward, his expression set. “If there is no rule of law, everyone’s on the same footing. Chaos makes us all equal.” He spread his hands. “Avasans will finally be the same as Talisians, free to do what they want,
what they want. Tell me that’s not tempting.”
Oh, it was tempting all right. Not that she would admit it to him. But she’d lived her entire life being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it. She had enjoyed her time in the service, but she hadn’t had a choice about serving. Now that she was her own person again, she’d managed to eke out a living as a consultant for the local security forces. But she’d often wondered what her life would have been like if she’d been born on Talis, if she’d been able to actively make choices instead of having them foisted on her.
No matter her upbringing, what Natchook thought needed to happen was ill-advised. Insane. “What you propose isn’t the way to bring about change. There has to be another tactic, something we haven’t thought of yet.”
“Since my wife’s death all I’ve done is think, trying to find other ways. But I keep coming to the same conclusion. They don’t care about what happened to her. She isn’t even a footnote on any legislator’s agenda.” He stood and began to pace the small room. His voice low, he said, “I made sure to become friends with Jarrad T’heone, the captain of Vardan’s personal security cadre. Through him I’ve met Vardan. He’s not as good a man as you think he is. He’s Talisian, with Talisian interests first. Always.”
While a member of their squad, Natchook had a knack for infiltrating enemy ranks. He still exuded charm and confidence, qualities of a natural-born leader. But Sirina couldn’t let him get involved in something like this. “And if someone does assassinate Vardan? Then what?” She stood and grabbed his arm. “If you get mixed up in this, they will
you. You won’t live to see what, if any, changes are made.”
He gave a bark of laughter. “They can’t execute me if they can’t catch me.” His grin and quick wink were sly with self-confidence. “Hypothetically speaking, of course.”
“Right.” She stared into his eyes. “And are you sure your hypothetical escape plan is good enough to evade every security force in the system?” Trying to get through to him, she tightened her fingers. “Natchook, the assassination of a world leader is a huge thing. They’ll put a price on your head. Anyone who is remotely involved will be hunted down like rabid beasts. You won’t find a hole to hide in on any planet.”
He shook his head. “I’ve thought about that, too. If someone wanted a handy escape route, all they’d have to do is lay some credits on a couple of technicians at Rift Central,” he said, giving the detention center the nickname most Avasans used.
It was the place where society’s undesirables—political dissidents, religious heretics, and criminals—were taken after trial and sentencing. Once there, their souls were stripped from their bodies, and the incorporeal energies that made up the essence of what was left were placed in specially designed holding tanks.
A rift between their dimension and another occurred every seventy-three rotations of Talis around their sun star. Because the rift opened from the other dimension, all the authorities could do was wait for it. But when it happened, the holding cells were opened, and the gravitational forces of the rift sucked the entities into it. No one knew what happened on the other side after that point.