How can the Adda float so
—They have no memories to weigh them down.
—a child’s riddle
FROM THE OPEN DOOR OF HIS QUARTERS, Quinn could watch the great sea. Time was when he had spent years looking down on this sea. Now he saw it from a new angle, like most of the things in his life.
He saw Anzi anew. They had begun badly, as she drew his escape pod into the Entire; a girl playing at magic like the sorcerer’s apprentice. Although that act had possibly saved his life and the lives of his family, it had also damned them. That seemed long ago. Since then, they had shared terror and deliverance so many times it was hard to imagine life without her. He saw the Entire through her eyes, he supposed. He saw himself through her eyes.
What would she think of him now, with his new face, courtesy of one of Zhiya’s back-alley healers? He’d changed features once before, in what had become a continuing distortion of the man Titus Quinn, played out on his face and elsewhere.
He walked to the small porch jutting out from his upper-story sitting room.
Where are you, Anzi? I’m not supposed to know. Still, where are you right now?
Johanna had released him from his marriage. She had moved on, and so, she claimed, should he. Their marriage had not survived the Entire. How could it? How could anything of the Rose survive this place?
Now, two weeks after Anzi had left, Quinn was well lodged in a small but luxurious suite of rooms in a node of the city where a reclusive resident might have privacy. Zhiya had arranged it at her own expense. A godwoman—even of venerable rank—must have a side income, and Zhiya did: her cadre of exclusive consorts who hired her to procure. His hideaway wasn’t far from her own quarters—although far was a troublesome concept here. By navitar vessel, every place was close in Rim City, a city girdling the Sea of Arising.
From this sea five rivers spread out like arms on a starfish. This was a radial universe, a cosmos with a geography; a place that couldn’t be, except as a profound construct of a stage-four civilization. Contained by storm walls, lidded by the bright, and pierced by the rivers Nigh—all this had become sensible to him, even inevitable. They called this place the Entire, as though there was nothing else. Sometimes that, too, made sense to him. A convenient mind-set, since he was stuck here. And since he probably wasn’t welcome in the Rose.
Did you deliver the weapon to
—I got it to the place.
And did you destroy the engine
—There was a problem.
What problem could matter enough? They’re going to burn us for fuel.
Quinn tried to conjure an answer. Minerva misjudged the nan. It would have destroyed this universe. Helice had warned him, but he hadn’t believed her. His thoughts stuck on this point. Why had Helice tried to protect the Entire? She must have seen some profit in the place, but what profit could matter if the Earth was threatened? Somehow the trade-off had seemed worth it to her. He’d very much like to know why.
Standing on the porch, he gazed at the distant pillars that seemed to bear up the Tarig capital city. Inside those conduits of exotic matter, lifts rose and fell, conveying functionaries and petitioners intent upon the chores of the colossal meritocracy. Commanding the summit, the Ascendancy, a stationary, misshapen moon. The floating city was the most formidable sight in the Entire or the Rose—and Quinn had seen many sights. He had captained star vessels. He had seen the Repel of Ahnenhoon. But this was a sight to stop one’s breath. Exactly as the Tarig intended.
Below the city in the sky, navitar vessels on the sea sparked in and out of existence. As Quinn watched he saw, out toward one of the five primacies, a congregation of Adda cruising slowly, far from their usual cross-primacy routes. A trick of perspective, to see so far. Today was especially good for mirages. Quinn gazed at the closest storm wall where it stopped short at the shore in a view that appeared to be twenty miles away. He squinted, trying to see the storm walls of Sydney’s primacy too, but as most things relating to his daughter, they were obscured by time and distance. Yet by navitar vessel, she was close. That was the overwhelming reality of the Entire. Immensity and immediacy were two sides of the same coin.
Could anyone choose to destroy this? The Entire endured. Earth was under threat. He could have traded these two circumstances. He hadn’t.
At a noise downstairs, Quinn found his knife—a beat too slowly, but fast enough.
Zhiya appeared in the doorway, key in hand. Nodding her overlarge head at the sea, she said, “Anzi’s not out there.”
Quinn slipped the knife back into the folds of his shirt. “No. Out in the void.”
“Don’t try to guess.”
Zhiya gamboled in, joining him on the balcony. “Even I don’t know where she went. No use trying to ply me with sex, I won’t tell you.” She threw a lock of her white hair over her shoulder. “On second thought, you could try.”
Quinn smiled, saying nothing. In the nearby public square he could glimpse from his balcony, a God’s Needle jutted up from the city, where sentients left offerings for the god whom they hoped would not notice them.
The needle looked neglected. This was a city favoring a different religion, the faith of the Red Throne. He didn’t know which he preferred: the Red, with its fatalistic and pious acceptance of all futures, or the Misery, acknowledging that the more you attracted notice, the worse God dealt with you. Having experienced the foretelling powers of the navitar Ghoris, he was inclined to believe that if any being was close to a creator, it might be the red-robed pilots. The navitars didn’t encourage such devotion. They were oblivious to it. An excellent clergy, and immune to corruption.
Zhiya led him back to the sitting room. “Let me look at your face.” She hauled a chair closer. “Sit.”
He got to her level, and she examined his bruised face, where the needles had instructed his face to move and his face had responded with slow, painful morphing.
“My drunken physician did well. But you look tired. Did you sleep?”
Zhiya shrugged “A plague of nightmares. We all have them.”
“I dream of fighting them.”
Ever since she’d given him a ride in her airship, she’d had in mind that he’d lead a revolution. In Zhiya’s peregrinations, she’d always looked for someone who’d take the role. Unfortunately, she had settled on him.
He rose. “So, you approve the new face?”
“Lovely. But I fancy a soldier, dear one. Strap on a sword and you can have me on the balcony.”
“I’m no soldier. You’ve mistaken me for a hero.” He went back to his post at the doorway. “I’m Ji Anzi’s husband.”
Zhiya blinked. “Hm. Well, for my part, I liked you better when you were important.”
Quinn turned from her. He gazed at the pillars of the Ascendancy. Once he’d thought of slicing the legs off that hovering beast. Now his chance was gone. The cirque lay at the bottom of the Nigh. The cirque, that flawed device he’d brought from the Rose. Flawed, full of changeover nan. Escaping, it would have rushed out and enveloped the world, along with the bright sky, the dark walls. All. It was not a limited device, as the Rose engineers had promised. It would have taken it all.
So the engine at Ahnenhoon remained, churning into the Rose. Whether he’d chosen rightly or wrongly, the moment was past. No one man could destroy so much. He could not. The cirque was gone.
“I suspected you would turn me down.”
He turned back to Zhiya, cocking an eyebrow.
“About taking a little comfort in my arms.” She swept her hand toward the door. On cue, a stunning woman in deep purple and gold entered, bowing. A courtesan. She drew the eye, locked it on.
Zhiya avoided Quinn’s look. “One of my girls. Your lovely wife won’t mind. It isn’t our way to put too much meaning into physical delight.”
“It isn’t my way to pay for sex.”
“My treat,” Zhiya said.
He left the porch and approached the woman. “Your name?”
“Ban, Excellency.” She glanced at the quarters, noting that she’d be entertaining a man of means.
“You may leave, Ban. Thank you.”
Zhiya signaled Ban to stay. “It will do you good, Ni Jian,” she said, using Quinn’s new name. When Quinn didn’t answer, she drew closer. “She’d want you to live naturally—while she’s gone.”
“I am living naturally.”
“Staring at the sea? Thinking too much about what’s gone, what’s done and not done?”
“Some things still work, I’m sure,” she muttered. After a long moment, she gestured Ban out of the room. “You’re no use to anyone if you let yourself go dark.”
“No use to you.”
Zhiya put on a hurt expression. “As though I’ve ever asked anything of you.”
It was true. She’d helped him in the bad times, never calling for a favor in return. But she hated the Tarig, and counted on Quinn to share that hate. Maybe do something about it, if the day ever came.
Softening his tone, he said, “Don’t ask me to go back to what I was. There’s no going back.”
“There’s going forward.”
“I do go forward.”
She smiled, shaking her head. “Stuck in place, dear one. Someone has to tell you.”
He saw how it was with her. She remembered him striving, half mad with despair over Sydney and guilt over his wife’s suffering. Zhiya had seen him engulfed in pain and thoughts of revenge. Maybe she liked him better that way.
“I’m not dark.” He had the words, finally. He knew the feeling that had lurked there these last days. “I’m at peace.” Amid all of this, it was the simple truth. The world was at war, but he was relieved of duty. “I’ve become a plain man. I’m glad of it.” He knew how it sounded. Like he was settling for less. There was a big difference between peace and surrender, though. “At peace. Do you know how good that feels?”
Her response dripped with sarcasm. “I can just imagine.” She went to the chair where Ban had left her shawl and picked it up. “Recuperate, then. I can see you need more rest before you pillow a beautiful woman who is the best of my whores and who, besides, is your own height.”
He smiled at her. “If I was going to pillow with anyone—which I’m not, because I’m done betraying the women in my life—it would be you.”
She threw the shawl over her white hair that was the hallmark of Chalin women. “Recuperate, Ni Jian. Let me know when you’re worth talking to again.” Before closing the door, she gave him a sideways glance. “Anzi might be gone a long time, you know.”
The longer she was gone, the safer it was for the Rose. Standing at the door again, and looking at the God’s Needle nearby, he almost threw out a prayer. It wouldn’t do, though, to have the wrong god hear it.
Days passed. Quinn counted them. Ten, twenty. Zhiya came and went, reporting on Tarig presence in Rim City, listening for news, spying out new sources. But to what purpose? She wanted him to bring them down, and Quinn only wanted peace.
At times, he was able to sleep. Sometimes he dreamed lucidly. Tonight was such a night.
He pivoted to avoid the slashing blow. The Tarig lord missed, but more Tarig swarmed around him. He was dreaming, he knew, but he still fought for his life. Each Tarig he felled was replaced by another, jumping up from the ground, created from soil.
They replicated wildly; not born, but sprouting unnaturally. They were made of dirt, but no less strong for that. Within seconds of springing up, their skin hardened off, congealing under a thousand years of fire curing. The foremost creature came for him out of nowhere, her talon aimed for his eye. Before the claw went in, he had time to see it was the Lady Chiron. She was supposed to be dead. No longer.
To escape blinding, he woke.
It was Deep Ebb, what passed for night in the Entire. Through the haze of broken sleep, Quinn noted the lavender sky with clefts of purple, shedding a dour twilight. Though every day Zhiya begged him to secure his doors, he left them thrown wide to his deck for the view of the sea, where Anzi had set sail.
A creature poised on the balcony. Small, misshapen, ominous.
Quinn rolled to his feet, his hand clamping on to his knife. He circled around the creature, trying to see how many there were. The room in shadow. The creature, a monkey.
A Ysli. Simian creature, but sentient. He wore a belt with tools hanging from it. It sprang at him. Before Quinn’s knife had completed its upward swing, the Ysli jumped high to crash into Quinn’s chest. Quinn sprawled onto his back; the Ysli rode him down.
A knife was at Quinn’s eye. “Calm,” the Ysli said in a hissing voice. “No movement.”
Quinn felt the blade press at the corner of one eye. He remained still.
“No knife,” the creature said, still whispering.
Quinn released his grip on his own knife, and the Ysli kicked it away, still sitting on his chest like a nightmare.
“I’ll pay you more than the Tarig can,” Quinn whispered.
“Under sentient,” the creature hissed. “I serve the mistress, don’t I? Ghoris. You remember?” He grinned at Quinn’s reaction. “You know her, so no cause to draw knives. You drew yours first, or I wouldn’t have jumped. Can you be calm? I’ll let you up.”
The Ysli climbed down, placing the knife in his tool belt. The back of his arms and thighs bristled with hair, as did its chest and groin. Golden eyes peered out at Quinn from a bald and wizened face. Quinn knew this ship keeper. “Ghoris says you must come.”
“To her ship?”
“Does a navitar leave her ship?”
“Why does she want me?”
“She doesn’t. The visitor does.”
The Ysli frowned, massive eyebrows meeting in the crease of his forehead. “Coming or not?”
Quinn grabbed a cloak, leading the way down the stairs to the street.
Anzi, he thought. She’s here, somehow on Ghoris’s ship. Ghoris had taken pity on him and would give them a cabin to indulge their longing and bodily hunger. But remembering the navitar, he thought not. Ghoris was barely aware that she had a body.
Nighttime made a splendor of Rim City. The isthmus of lights extended out on either side in a hot strip of molten colors, a neon foam on the endless shore. The tracks of the longest city in the universe, in any universe.
Quinn and the ship keeper walked quickly through the lanes of the nearest residential quarter, offering glimpses of the sea peeking between courtyards and back passageways. They stayed off the great Way, the circular road that meandered more or less parallel with the shore. Keeping to back ways, they passed into a more humble sector with a chaotic assortment of shops and apartments above. The only rule in this city was never to block the Way. In theory, a citizen of the Entire could walk the full circumference of the sea, the better to see the lords’ glory. One step at a time, it would take thousands of years.
When the back ways came to a dead end, the ship keeper reluctantly led him into the Way. Fortunately, few sentients were abroad at the late hour.
On the sea side of the Way, habitations and wharves huddled, blocking off a view of the mercurial waters. His instinctive caution made him wary of this ship keeper. But if the Tarig knew him to be at Zhiya’s hiding place, they didn’t need a ruse to bring him out.
Ghoris was an ally, if a slightly mad one. She had brought him out of Ahnenhoon. She had predicted Johanna would be the key to Earth’s future. And Ghoris had been right.
He hoped the navitar had good reason to bring him out into the streets. As long as he stayed hidden, the lords would think he had a doomsday device. That piece of deterrence would argue for leaving the Earth alone, and the Rose. As long as he remained hidden. He cast a quick look at the Ysli, taciturn, working hard to match strides with Quinn.
They came to a pier hidden in a shed and entered through a locked door which the Ysli resealed behind him. Quinn heard the slosh of exotic water against the boardwalk. Here in the deep shadow, no light shone from the wharf or from the ship. The navitar’s ship hunkered there, a mere outline.
Quinn let the Ysli take his arm, guiding him to the ship ramp.
On the upper deck, a brief flash of light and a glimpse of red cloth: Ghoris moving in her quarters, maybe keeping watch, or maybe just careening from porthole to porthole, staring madly.
The Ysli led him to the main cabin, leaving him at the threshold.
Then Quinn turned and found he was not alone. He faced a massive presence in the room. Neither of them moved. “I’ve come in good faith,” Quinn said at last. “And you?” When the presence didn’t answer, Quinn said, “Turn on a light.”
“No lights,” came the gentle voice.
River matter sloshed gently against the ship’s hull. The two of them faced off, shadow against shadow.
“I know you,” Quinn ventured, remembering.
“You do. I am Mo Ti.”
The man who’d covered his retreat from Ahnenhoon. “The one who fought off two soldiers so I could escape.”
“I’m glad you got away. I’d hear your story if you’ll tell it.” He heard Mo Ti move a little, and the floorboards creaked.
“Someday. Mo Ti is here now, with news.”
“Who are you, Mo Ti?”
“First, a story.”
Quinn sat on the bench under the porthole. Mo Ti took the bench oppo- site. His leathers stank of sweat in the small cabin, as though the man had run ten miles under the full bright.
“I come from a far sway, Titus Quinn. Your daughter’s sway.” Quinn waited.
“I was her protector, but she sent me away, taking on a vile advisor in my place. I wish to save her from ruin. No matter how I betray her today, Mo Ti serves her forever. You understand?”
“Yes,” Quinn breathed.
“I do not know you, nor care one gobbet for you, darkling. But I saw the thing you did at Ahnenhoon. You had the chain and did not use it against us. All would have died. You spared us. Mo Ti remembers.”
“I made my choice. For my own reasons.”
“And Mo Ti, too, has his own reasons. Listen.” The giant—for he was a massive man, larger than any Quinn had seen—leaned forward in the dark. “Before I left the primacy of the Long Gaze of Fire, someone came to us whom you know. Someone from the dark universe. It was she who told us about the chain and what it held.”
Helice. Quinn knew that when she slipped away from their former mission, she went to Sydney.
“The woman is a spider, Titus Quinn.”
“Call me Quinn.”
“You brought the spider here.”
He accepted the rebuke in silence. Helice had followed him, and he hadn’t thought fast enough to prevent it. From upstairs came a rattling sound. Ghoris at the door, trying to come down. The ship keeper had locked her in, then. The door rattled again, louder.
Mo Ti stopped, listening. Unperturbed, he went on: “The spider has a machine she built up from parts sown into her garments. Like a mechanical thing with a mind, it has magical properties. Your Hel Ese used it to take a blight from Sydney’s eyes. My mistress carried the sight of the Tarig, and to forestall them watching us, wore a blindfold. The spider healed her. For that she won Sydney’s high regard and prevailed on Sydney to send me away.
“Further, she told Sydney you had a device that would loose a plague on our land. That you would put it at the foot of the engine at Ahnenhoon, but that the plague would kill all the world. My mistress believed her.” Quinn could imagine what a monster his daughter must think him. Mo Ti continued, “But you did not use the chain.” He paused. “Was it because you love the Entire, darkling?”
Mo Ti was quiet for a moment, perhaps mulling over whether to trust a man who would betray his own world. “Strange.”
“Is this the news you came to tell me, Mo Ti? That Helice has turned my daughter against me?”
“No.” They were interrupted by the ship keeper, who came inside and, without speaking to them or lighting his way, ascended the companionway to the upper deck. They listened as the Ysli unlocked the door and entered the navitar’s cabin. Ghoris barked a laugh, and the ship keeper slammed the door behind him, murmuring to the navitar.
Mo Ti went on. “Here is the news I came to tell: The spider told us in private counsels she would come to the Entire with a large force of darklings, but not too large. They would take refuge here, and she would let the Tarig burn the Rose. She has a great machine in the Rose that matches the forces of the Ahnenhoon engine. Working together, the two machines will ignite a great fire in your realm. Thus she removes all threat of the Rose sending another plague into the Entire. She purges her fellow darklings whom she hates. She begins a new sway, and breeds humans to long life here. That is the spider’s plan.”
For a moment Quinn couldn’t quite grasp the size of it. He sat, waiting for Mo Ti’s words to stick. Instead, they swirled: matching engine; a great fire; breeding humans . . .
“She has a darkling word for this plan. Rena Sance. To renew darkling life. To begin your culture over again. This pleases her. Also long life in the Entire. That is Mo Ti’s belief, that she comes here to live one hundred thousand days.”
Quinn was shaking his head. It wasn’t possible, even for Helice. “The Tarig can already burn the Rose for fuel. Why have another engine?”
“She says using a matching engine can hasten the Rose collapse. What would take many thousands of days can be done in one.”
Still pushing away, Quinn shot back: “Why? Why should the Tarig rush? They have time to burn us one star at a time.”
“No. She would get it over with. As it is now, there are armed forays forthcoming from the Rose. You were one. If there are others, best light the Rose fire now, rather than wait. So the spider told us.”
A moan from upstairs. Perhaps Ghoris heard this, despaired of it.
Quinn sat in the dark, thoughts circling. It stunned him—not just the plan, but that Helice had even thought of it. How could a universe collapse in an instant? But it could. A quantum transition, occurring everywhere at once; the universe and all its atoms moving simultaneously to a lower energy state, falling inward, heating to incandescence.
“I don’t believe you, Mo Ti. Why the hell should I?” In the heavy dark, the giant’s silence reigned. “Why doesn’t she go directly to the Tarig?” It would be like her to go to the top.
“The spider says she needs assurances that the Tarig won’t take her engine without first letting her people come. She seeks the Tarig weak point. So do we all. But she might find it first. She has her little machine. It is the only part of her I fear. The machine is a little god.”
Worse and worse. A machine sapient, of course. She had brought an mSap with her.
They sat facing each other while Mo Ti waited and Quinn churned. One part fit: Helice had warned him the nan device was out of control. She tried to save the Entire. She wanted it for herself, then. Herself and a force of darklings.
“And you, Mo Ti. Why help the Rose—against your own mistress?”
The giant didn’t answer. Quinn let the moment stretch out. Why would the devoted Mo Ti go against Sydney, against the Entire?
Even in the dark, the two men faced off with hostile eyes.
Mo Ti shifted his weight. “Mo Ti has reasons.”
Oh yes, reasons. Mo Ti had them aplenty. Hel Ese wished to bring darklings to the All. A human sway, a settlement of thousands. The lords would crush her for the mere suggestion. When caught, Hel Ese’s downfall would take Sydney as well. But if he and his mistress were to die for treason, let it be their own treason, and their own goals: to raise the kingdom. First envisioned by High Prefect Cixi, then transmitted to Mo Ti, the dream was for a kingdom of diverse sentients under the daughter of the Rose. It was Cixi’s perfect plan, and Mo Ti and Sydney were bringing it to fruition.
As for fuel needed, that was a problem for another day.
He was not ready to divulge to Titus Quinn Sydney’s plan. Quinn need only assist them by removing the spider. It suited the man’s interests to do so, and it suited Mo Ti to set him upon it.
“The Entire is for the Entire,” Mo Ti said, finally. “I want no hoards of darklings here. Especially not ruled by the spider. Go away once you rid us of her. You to the Rose, we for the Entire. It is the way it has always been.”
They heard the ship keeper coming down the stairs in a great hurry. Entering the main cabin, the Ysli bore a small lantern. By its light, Quinn looked at Mo Ti in his leather tunic, torn leggings. His face, bulging at chin and cheekbones and his hair drawn up into a top knot, in the warrior style. Just as he remembered him.
“We must depart,” the Ysli rasped. “Ghoris says our presence is suspect. Ready yourselves for the binds.”
Quinn glanced out the port hole, but the enclosed pier remained empty by what light was cast from the cabin. He addressed Mo Ti. “My daughter wouldn’t help kill the Earth. She wouldn’t help Helice.”
Mo Ti snorted. “What ties does my mistress have to the Rose? Whatever ties there were, they are gone. Sydney is a power in the land, and her loyalties are here.”
While the two faced off in silence, the Ysli spat out, “We leave now. Be ready!”
Mo Ti said, “Run with us. You are the only one that can stop the spider.”
“Mo Ti is easy to see, and all will seek me. You are like other men. Go abroad in the bright realm and remove her.”
So much for being at peace. The war would never be done with him. He was enlisted for the duration. Already he felt something uncoiling within him. A striking force, gathering rage from the words of this hulking messenger.
From upstairs they heard Ghoris cry out, “Ship keeper! Cast off, cast off!”
As Quinn hesitated, Mo Ti sneered, “Tarig, no doubt. Did they follow you? Do you want to live?”
“If you’re lying, wherever you go, I’ll find you. We’ll have the fight we should have had.”
Mo Ti grinned. In the cerulean light, he looked like the Miserable God himself, gloating from the side of a godman’s cart. “I am waiting, darkling.”
If it was Tarig who approached, his best chance was with the ship. Quinn glanced at the ship keeper. “Cast off,” he said. The ship keeper nodded. Upstairs, the navitar seemed to know. The vessel lurched, then began a slow pull out of its berth.
The ship gained speed, spearing out of the pier. Within the next moment, the funnel came down with a splash, sucking in the fuel of the exotic water. Leaving Rim City behind, the vessel sped out to sea.