Read The Long Night Online

Authors: Dean Wesley Smith,Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Space Opera, #Science Fiction, #Media Tie-In

The Long Night

BOOK: The Long Night
10.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

THE DEEP-SPACE SHIP Nibix felt cold, as if it had already turned into a burial chamber. The Supreme Ruler pulled his long black robes around him. His coldsleep chamber stood on a platform, like a raised bed. The spotlight above would be one of the last lights off when the ship entered deep space and one of the first lights on. It would highlight his still face even though there would be no followers to watch him awaken.

He shuddered.

The sleeping cocoon looked like the glass coffin that kept his father's body lifelike for nearly two generations. The faithful had trooped through the Rubis daily during those years, so that they could gaze on the face of the former Supreme Ruler of Jibet, a man, his mother reminded Jibim Kiba Siber, who was well loved.

Her implication was that the current Supreme Ruler was not.

The Supreme Ruler clasped his hands behind his back. Always present a semblance of calm, he had learned, even when he didn't feel it. That axiom had allowed him to get this far, to the Nibix, his salvation and his only hope.

Around the platform, five technicians bent over the vast machinery that would keep him alive. His assistant, Bikon, had chosen the best, most loyal subjects to make certain the equipment worked, and still the Supreme Ruler worried.

He had thought all his subjects were loyal once.

More technicians worked in the chambers beyond. The Nibix had a thousand passengers already in cold sleep, family and loyal followers all, their belongings-a good half of the wealth of Jibet-stored in chambers even deeper in the bowels of the ship. The technicians were putting the final touches on all of the equipment now. Then they would sleep in the beds in the room just outside of his.

Their beds would rouse them at the same moment his spotlight came on-seventy years from now. At the dawn of the new beginning, or so he had whispered to his wife as he held her hand a few moments ago. In the new beginning, he would wake her with a kiss.

She had laughed and called him a romantic. It had been the first laugh he had heard from her on the Nibix, and it warmed him. She had fallen into cold sleep with the smile still on her lips.

But she looked like his dead father had, her cheeks artificially flushed behind the glass door of a glass coffin.

He had turned away then and come here, to his own spectacular resting place. His cocoon was the same as hers on the inside. Only the outer trappings showed it belonged to the Supreme Ruler. Not the man who had gentled his wife to sleep, but the all-powerful being who held the future of Jibet in his hands.

"We are ready." The voice was deep and steady.

The Supreme Ruler turned slowly, even though the voice had startled him. His chief of science, Bikon, stood the requisite half step behind him, head bowed as he awaited the Supreme Ruler's response. Bikon's shaved head had black stubble along the top, a sign that he had been concentrating on preparation of the Nibix, not on the rituals of everyday life. His black uniform had a tear along the elbow and creases along his back. Additional lines had formed on his face these last few months, adding to its severity. Those lines were the only evidence that the revolt had disturbed him as deeply as it had disturbed all the rest.

Bikon slowly raised his head. His black eyes held no hint of emotion, only the levelness the Supreme Ruler had come to depend on over the years. There was no turning back. He would have to trust Bikon now with his life and the future of Jibet and all its people.

The Supreme Ruler nodded. He took the Staff of Life from the wall where he had let it rest. The staff glowed green. It was slightly warm to the touch, as it always was, a small reassurance in a world suddenly empty of them. He gripped the staff firmly in his right hand. "We will make this last inspection short."

Bikon glanced at the raised platform. The glass door to the Supreme Ruler's cocoon was open and waiting. To his credit, Bikon did not shudder as many of the technicians had.

With a nod, Bikon led the Supreme Ruler out of the chamber and into the wide corridor. Behind the walls, behind the paneling, some of Jibet's most precious treasures were stored. Beyond them, the equipment that would guard a people for a long and dangerous journey hummed.

The corridors were dark except for the traveling lights, as Bikon called them. The Supreme Ruler thought of them as night lights, even though the darkness of space knew no day or night.

Bikon and the Supreme Ruler moved slowly from his chamber in the very center of the huge ship and toward the smaller chambers where his family had already been put into cold sleep. The Supreme Ruler wondered how many ghosts would roam these halls in the next seventy years. Ghosts of those lost in the fighting. Ghosts of followers left behind because there was no more room. The Supreme Ruler forced the bad memories from his mind. He had done the best he could. The Nibix could only carry one thousand souls. It was not enough, but it would do.

At the door of the royal chamber, the two men stopped. The Supreme Ruler had half hoped he would not come here again. His wife lay in state, her much-loved face almost hidden by the opaque air created in the first stage of deep cold. At least she no longer looked like his long-dead father. Now his wife looked like a woman drowning in fog. He turned away, forcing himself to examine the sleep cocoons of his two sons, the future of the Jibetian people. Their young faces lacked the serenity of his wife's. His younger son had asked Bikon if men dreamed in cold sleep, and Bikon had not been able to answer. The Supreme Ruler knew that the boy had had nightmares ever since the attack outside the Supreme Palace that had signaled the start of the revolution.

His older son had laughed at the question, but the Supreme Ruler had seen fear in his eyes as well. The older boy knew that this sleep process was experimental, that for each question Bikon could not answer, a dozen more lurked.

The Supreme Ruler ran his fingers along the glass top of his older son's cocoon. The material was cool against his fingers, not cold as he had expected. His good-byes to his sons had been emotional, yet dignified. They knew there was a chance that many of the sleepers would not awaken in seventy years when the Nibix found its new world, the New Jibet. This technology was still young, and only the revolution had forced its speedy development.

Jibim glanced at Bikon. It had been his suggestion to build the huge deep-space ship, Nibix, just in case the revolution won. Bikon had argued that finding a new world for the royal family and all the followers to live in peace was preferable to dying in a revolution. Jibim had agreed, never thinking that the ship would actually be put to use. Never thinking that the revolution would succeed.

But four months ago the Nibix, high in orbit over the planet had been his family's only lifeboat away from certain death. And he had been glad it was there.

Too glad, for a man who prided himself on calm.

The inspection of the rest of the sleep chambers went quickly. The chambers looked the same. Cool, dark places with oval-shaped cocoons on the floor and the monitoring equipment gleaming on the walls and ceiling. Sleeping body after sleeping body of friend after friend, follower after follower. If he tried, the Supreme Ruler could identify them all and cite their importance to him, his family, and his government.

Bikon claimed their importance now lay in their distinct and different genetic heritage. He said what they had done in the past no longer mattered.

But it did matter. What they had done in the past had allowed them to come on this ship, had allowed them an extra four months of life. It would allow them a peaceful death instead of a state-ordered execution. Even if that peaceful death occurred inside a sleep cocoon instead of on a mysterious planet seventy years away.

Maybe he and all his followers really had been killed in the revolution that overthrew the seven-thousand-year reign of his family. It was just taking them all some time to die.

The Supreme Ruler left the last chamber, Bikon trailing him. The difficult part of the inspection was through. He could think about the real future now, the future the Nibix would take them to. They inspected the bridge and ship's control centers. No live person interrupted their path as only machines hummed in faint life. Here and there a light shown. The ship was on fully automatic. It would remain that way for seventy years.

The Supreme Ruler turned to Bikon. "I have seen enough."

Bikon nodded and at an unhurried pace lead the way back to the Supreme Ruler's chamber. The Supreme Ruler wondered if his steady advisor was feeling the same fear he felt. Or if he even felt anything at all. The Supreme Ruler shook his head. Far too late to ask now. Maybe in seventy years, when they reached their new home.

Around the center chamber the few remaining technicians were helping each other into sleep cocoons. The Supreme Ruler stopped and watched, nodding to a few worried faces but not speaking. Finally, the last cocoon lid dropped down over the last technician and the Supreme Ruler turned to his advisor.

Bikon moved quickly to his sleep cocoon, just outside the door of the Supreme Ruler's chamber. Without emotion he crawled in and then with one hand on the lid glanced up at the Supreme Ruler. "It will seem like only a few moments before you awake on a new future."

Jibim nodded. "I know."

The Supreme Ruler prided himself on a calm exterior, but Bikon truly had one. Climbing into what could be his coffin, the instrument of either life or death, seemed as routine to Bikon as climbing into bed. The Supreme Ruler was pleased that he would climb into his cocoon alone. He would allow himself to feel the fear that he had been hiding all these months.

Bikon lay back and pulled the lid closed over him. The automatic machinery kicked in with a soft hum, and after a moment the clear lid of the sleep chamber fogged slightly.

The Supreme Ruler glanced around the ship at the sleep chambers in sight and then back at his own through the open door. He was the only one still awake, the last to sleep, as was his wish on this flight to freedom. He shuddered at the weight of the trust these thousand followers and family had put on him. They believed him when he told them a new world existed out there, where their beliefs could be followed without fear. All they had to do was find it. And if they followed him, they would.

He just hoped he'd been right.

With a wave of his hand over a panel, the Supreme Ruler dimmed the last of the lights. Only the panel lights remained. A cool silvery glow emanated from within his sleep chamber. The spotlight remained on, would remain on, until his cocoon was closed and on.

No time to turn back now. With a last glance down the dark corridors, he whirled and entered his sleep chamber. The cocoon on the platform glowed like the throne had glowed the day he received the Staff of Life, the day his father had died.

He gripped the staff tightly, leaning on it as he walked the remaining distance. His mouth was dry, his shoulders tight. No one would say good-bye to him. No one would gentle him into sleep.

No one could.

His mistakes had brought him there. The revolution had happened on his watch, not his father's. The Staff of Life, once the center of the Jibetian government and the Jibetian religion, was now in exile with the family of Jibim Kiba Siber. The Supreme Ruler glanced at the glowing rod and wondered if seventy years would dim its light. He hoped not.

He mounted the platform with as much ceremony as he had when he walked to the throne the day of his coronation. Then he gathered his black robes around him, crawled into the cocoon, and adjusted his shoulders and back until he was comfortable. It did not feel like a bed. It felt as if he were lying in a box. A cold, dark, empty box that he would have to trust with his life. Then he touched the green staff again. In a loud voice he said to the dark and silent ship, "May the power of belief and the strength of the true followers lead us all to a new home."

He lifted his hand from the green rod and touched the button to lower the cocoon lid. It slid down into position silently and then with a slight hiss, the chamber filled with a sleeping gas. The Supreme Ruler of Jibet slid into the first level of cold sleep.

And into the pages of history and folk tales throughout the galaxy.


JADZIA DAX STOPPED outside Quark's Bar. She tossed her ponytail over her shoulder and tugged on the sleeves of her uniform. She wasn't officially on duty-but she would be doing enough legitimate work that she would have felt uncomfortable in a loose blouse and silk pants.

Besides, Julian seemed to be over his crush on her, but she had learned in her various lifetimes that what seemed to be true often wasn't.

Quark's was full. Several freighters had arrived in the last few days, all with crews who hadn't had shore leave in much too long. They crowded into the bar as if it were the only place of interest on the station. Brightly hued uniforms, from gold to purple, mixed with the most hideous lime green she had ever seen, added spots of color throughout the dimly lit rooms. Some of the crews had come directly to Quark's-the smell of deep space, grit, and interspecies sweat hung over the familiar smells of Bajoran ceremonial wine and Tirellian stout.

BOOK: The Long Night
10.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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