Atonement [Farthinghome Book 3] [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Nina M. Osier
eBook Category: Science Fiction/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Description: It's going to take several lifetimes, or maybe longer, to reach Earth. The survivors from the alien-occupied Farthinghome star system have nowhere else to go, so they're setting out with what little they have left. Of the refugee fleet's three leaders, Magister Charra Waxwoman has given up already on their hopeless quest. Now Commodore Aisha Tambour and Father Bazel daKiev must fight to hold their people together as they reach the border of deep space. Is there any way to cross the gulf that separates them from Humankind's first home? Or must they face death in the void, so their descendants may one day find safe harbor?
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, Published: ebook, 2007
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2007
This eBook is part of the following series:
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"What do you suppose we'll find if we come back here someday? Or our descendants, if it's them?" Commodore Aisha Tambour asked Father Bazel daKiev that question as a much-shrunken flotilla prepared to move out from Minerva, the most populous Human-controlled planet remaining in the Farthinghome system. The two middle-aged lovers stood at a dining saloon viewport aboard the ashram Daughter of Ceres, staring out at this world that the third member of their triumvirate of leaders--Magister Charra Waxwoman--called home.
"I'd like to think that our descendants would find theirs thriving, of course. But I doubt it." daKiev didn't put his vision of Minerva's future into words, because in some superstitious part of his soul he feared that doing so could make it come true. He saw it far too clearly. The great dome of the colony world's capital, and all the smaller ones around it, fallen dark. The open-atmosphere crops beyond those domes either vanished or running wild, and the satellites that now hummed high above gone--burned up in the planet's atmosphere, their power exhausted and their orbits decayed. Within the domes, did the remains of the last survivors lie mummified? Still recognizably Human? Or had they deteriorated--first into skeletons, and finally into dust?
His scientific training, that of a StellaGuard Academy astrophysics major, left him clueless about such medical and biological matters. He said, in order to banish those vivid and desolate images, "Who knows? After what the survivors we rescued told us about the Draj raid, I half expected we'd come back to find the domes breached. The crops destroyed, and anyone left alive here starving. But that's not how it happened."
"Thank gods," his companion murmured. She sought his hand, and they clutched each other tightly. "I don't blame Charra for wanting to stay, now that she's had a second chance to make that choice. Although if I had children as young as hers, I'd still do what I'm doing. Leave this system, and take my chances and theirs where there's no Scourge inhabiting the next world in. Just waiting for Minerva to rebuild, adapt, make something worth having again, out of a few residence domes and some crops that're tough enough to survive in the open on a planet like this one.... "Her voice trailed off as she nodded toward the globe below.
"That's when they'll decide to take it, too," daKiev agreed. "Just as they took Farthinghome."
A voice over the commlink mercifully ended the ensuing silence. "Wolfenden to Tambour. Mom? Are you and Bazel ready? Your flag captain says we can make sail any time."
To leave their home star system again, and strike out into open space with no intention of returning. It had been hard enough the first time, when they'd had more ships. Many more ships, and many more people. Tambour pictured what she couldn't see from this viewport, her reassembled fleet riding in orbit around and above the Daughter of Ceres. Should she be thankful she had less responsibility, at least in a sense, as they set out for their new destination? Or should she listen to the part of her that mourned fiercely for the hundreds of people who had changed their minds like Charra Waxwoman? People who couldn't bring themselves to set off a second time into the unknown, who would therefore stay behind to live or die on Minerva. Or at least, since the Farthinghome system had other Human outposts and sub-light speed transports to move inhabitants from one to another, to live or die as close as they dared approach to the world that Humankind called home.
Erroneously. The former StellaGuard commander, who served as commodore to the strangest star fleet ever assembled, braced her shoulders as she reminded herself that they now knew for certain this wasn't the case. Humankind's first home, its real home, lay thousands of light years in a direction that also held the home-world of the Silver Scourge. Or of the nosey-globes, as Farthinghome's people had called those once innocuous automated scouting devices. Before the noseys turned killer, and the alien species that built them followed in ships to take possession of a world poisoned against any further attempt by Humans to inhabit it. Before Humanity's closest allies, their old partners from the Trade Wars, turned on them in one case (the Drajs) and stood back to watch, impotently by choice, in the other (the Ecrusipis).
Both of those species were lost now. Wiped out first by their own worlds' unexpected nosey-globe invasions, and then by battles in which their remnants engaged the surviving Humans. It was from the Drajs, who captured Human slaves during a raid on Minerva's surface, that Tambour had learned to call the world-poisoners by the apt name of Silver Scourge.
She could accomplish nothing now by letting herself think mourning thoughts. For her still loved former husband, who'd died far below the surface of Farthinghome's ocean after the Scourge assault made escape impossible. For her last captain, who would have carried the infection back to the star cruiser Gallant if Tambour hadn't blasted the younger woman's shuttle before it could glide into the old ship's docking bay. For the Gallant's crew, who except for Leading Starman Stanislaus Frankel died not long after their captain; with Frankel and Tambour surviving only because they were, by then, aboard this ship. The Daughter of Ceres, ashram of Outlands Primate Bazel daKiev.
She had known those people, out of the billions who died on Farthinghome's surface and beneath its waters. On Castor, its larger moon, and on board the orbital batteries and ships protecting the planet's skies. Not to mention, more recently, at the hands of the Draj raiders--both during their assault on Minerva, and later during their treacherous attempt to take control of Tambour's refugee star fleet.
No. She'd lost two more people for whom she might mourn by name. Archat, the Ecrusipi commodore, murdered by Minervan officials taken prisoner during the Draj raid; and Frankel, her old friend and long time coxswain, who gave his life to keep Minervan Human captives from dying while still in Draj hands.
I wonder what became of them after they murdered the Ecrusipis, stole their ship, and started back here? Governor Thorne--Chief Engineer Keil--and Home Guard Captain Winrich? Tambour knew as she wondered that she might never find out, since when her own much slower ships made port at Minerva weeks later the commandeered Ecrusipi warship hadn't been heard from.
"Captain Durant, this is Tambour. Pass the word to all captains. Depart system at best sub-light speed, and form up in open space beyond." With her back straight, her voice came out strong and clear. Tambour stepped away from her lover and disengaged her hand from his. She said more softly, for his ears only, "I suppose I was selfish to refit your ashram to take over as fleet leader. But after not being able to get the damn Thecla to turn in anything less than minutes, in a fight.... "She didn't finish the sentence, because daKiev remembered that engagement as well as she did. The huge ex-freight hauler that had been her flagship, also under Janet Durant's command, gave its commodore neither battle maneuverability nor the modicum of personal comfort that she now realized a fleet commander required. Over the long run, anyway; and this passage was sure to be that. A very long run, indeed.
So she'd had Bazel reclaim his ashram, to the disgust of his successor. Although doing so proved easy, because Mother Nezrin, Minerva's senior cleric, hadn't inspired even the most basic loyalty on her crew's part during the weeks of Father daKiev's absence. With the small vessel's hull, structural integrity, and engines all upgraded to make it hyperlight capable, and with Doctor Nian Aventine--daKiev's surviving Sedna descendant, as well as medical supervisor to the fleet--presiding over its dispensary, Tambour now had all that she'd lacked aboard the massive but primitive Spirit of New Thecla. Except that despite frequent and matter-of-fact public admission of the physical intimacy she and Bazel daKiev shared in private, she found herself sleeping alone again; and that was one consequence she hadn't dreamed could result from the change in flagships.
She should ask Bazel, point blank, why he'd moved back into his old quarters and had given quiet orders (which Captain Durant and her crew had no reason to disrespect) that Tambour's few possessions should be moved into the guest cabin she had occupied during her last stay aboard his ashram. He visited her berth from time to time, and when he did so they shared passion; but afterward he put on his robe again, and left her.
Bazel, why don't you want to sleep beside me anymore? With some lovers a woman might ask that question. But not, she realized all over again as she paused to listen for his response to the words she'd uttered instead, with this man.
"Aisha, you don't need an excuse for preferring decent accommodations aboard a ship that can carry you into the heart of whatever's going on. We're starting out on one Hades of a long journey. Whatever you can do to keep yourself sane and effective, for as long as possible, can only benefit everyone else. So I don't think you're being selfish at all." daKiev's answer came gently. "Let's get up to the control room. That's where you'll need to be when we make the jump past light speed."
"Yes." She looked into his familiar gray eyes, and she nodded. Thinking now about the one person in the universe dearer to her than he was, and wondering how her son was faring in his new assignment as the fleet prepared to break orbit and leave Gregory Wolfenden's stepmother and two half-siblings behind.
No, she couldn't blame Charra Waxwoman for staying behind this time. Yet it was too bad, too damn bad, that ten-year-old Nedra and five-year-old Chase must remain on doomed Minerva because their scholarly mother lacked an explorer's grit and a leader's temperament. At least in open space, on course for the far-off system whose mysterious planets bore the names of Farthinghome Humans' god-patrons, the two youngsters might live in hope. Although Tambour admitted to herself, as she turned at last from the viewport and walked out of the dining saloon, that the odds in both places didn't favor either child living long enough to celebrate majority.* * * *
Among his people, a man didn't move into a woman's home; nor did he take her to live with him in his. When he was Basil Montoya, a boy growing up like any other in Farthinghome's mainstream, he hadn't known that. He'd had a mother and a father, then, and no clue they weren't the couple whose love had brought his life into being. Only later, after his first trance-state came upon him unaware, did he learn the truth about his heritage. That he'd been born in a ghetto, to descendants from the passengers and crew of the sleeper ship Sedna, and adopted by an "ordinary" human family as part of Central Dictate's effort to eliminate the outcasts by removing their children and placing them elsewhere. One by one.
Only by the time Basil Montoya discovered that he wasn't quite like other Humans, the social engineers were taking a different tack. Being identified as a Sedna descendant then barred him from taking his place as a newly commissioned StellaGuard ensign, and it also prevented him from entering any other profession. Except one: the priesthood. Where he wound up, eventually; but only after severing his ties with his adoptive parents, taking back his birth name, and living for months in the ghetto house where he'd been born. His great-grandmother's house--for among Sedna folk, each household consisted of a woman and her siblings and descendants. "Husband" and "father" were concepts unknown. A man's maternal uncles helped rear him, and after he was grown he did the same for his sisters' children.
Aisha knew that. He'd told her. But for awhile, during their time aboard the Spirit of New Thecla, he had fallen into the habit of bedding with his co-leader every night; and she had liked it that way.
He had, too, at the time. Yet something about returning to his ashram--its dignity and privacy, and even under present conditions its luxuries--had reawakened in Bazel daKiev a powerful awareness of who he really was. Or had his two recent and successful trance-states done that? Made him remember other, more personal things, along with his buried ancestral memories?
In any case, those trance-state episodes had changed him. He wasn't the same man he'd been before tracking the Sedna's course in reverse, to find the colony ship's point of origin among the stars. Before discovering there not what he and Aisha had counted upon, a Human-inhabitable world--but a dead system, instead. A white dwarf at the heart of an expanding nebula, where two Earth-type planets once orbited a red star.
Humankind could not have come into being in a system like that one. Although the Faith-doctrines that Father daKiev had sworn to uphold said otherwise, the man who had also been Basil Montoya--holder of an honors degree from StellaGuard Academy--knew from tell-tale gaps in Farthinghome's fossil record that it must be a colony planet. After seeing what remained of the Kiev/Sedna system, he knew the same had been true there. That the people aboard his ancestors' sleeper ship, who found persecution and ostracism on Farthinghome, hadn't represented one final wave of colonists sent there from Humanity's planet of origin before contact ended at last. Instead they'd been refugees, fleeing a conflagration that reached to engulf Kiev and Sedna as their giant red star bloated ever outward.
Why had they sought safety on Farthinghome, instead of setting their course for the mother planet of both colony systems? daKiev still wasn't entirely clear on that, but he did know they'd had only one ship; and even to reach Farthinghome, they were obliged to put themselves into cold sleep. It was a far longer journey from the Twin Worlds to Earth than to Farthinghome, and the people of Kiev and Sedna had something else besides colonial origin in common with the inhabitants of the world where they hoped to find safe haven. They, too, were exiles--outcasts--as well as colonists.
Cold sleep technology was among the many bio-engineering skills the Twin Worlds' people possessed, that their progeny born in Farthinghome's ghettos had forgotten. Even the one Sedna descendant daKiev knew about who'd studied medicine in defiance of the laws against his doing so, Dashiell diSedna who still used his long-ago assumed name of Nian Aventine, didn't know how the ancients had worked their miracles. How Sedna folk had been freed from most of Humankind's inherited ills, and given longer life spans than their Farthinghome cousins; or how to suspend life, and halt the aging process entirely, during interstellar passages decades or even centuries in duration.
Was diSedna, Aventine, the only other Sedna/Kiev survivor still living? daKiev didn't know that for sure, but he had every reason to assume it was true. Since Sedna descendants, except for those who'd assimilated completely into the larger population--mingling their DNA with that of Farthinghome's mainstream, and quickly diluting its uniqueness--lived by requirement in the ghettos. With only those who'd made a successful entry into the priesthood, and a few more like diSedna/Aventine who lived under false identities, possessing any freedom to leave the planet's surface.
No one who'd been on Farthinghome when the Scourge came was alive now. So it followed that Bazel daKiev and Dashiell diSedna were almost certainly the last of their kind. A middle-aged cleric and an elderly physician, both male.
With us the Sedna line dies out at last, then, daKiev thought with surprisingly little regret. A priest who's sworn to celibacy I don't pretend to practice, who sleeps with a woman past childbearing; and a doctor who's remained single for over a century because he can't stomach the mainstream way of rearing a family.
With that thought he walked through the hatch from passageway to control room, preceding Aisha because although she was the fleet's commodore this remained his ashram. As Captain Janet Durant and her co-pilot both glanced up from their instruments in greeting, though, his gaze rested for a moment on the young woman in the second seat. Not that I'd mind sleeping with her again, the ex-primate admitted as Mother Sheena Allyn stared back at him. Half defiantly, since the younger priest knew exactly how her superior felt about seeing her in a flight chair; but with a smile tugging at her mouth, too. They hadn't been lovers since before Great Mother Sigrid shipped them both into exile, and since he was no longer a primate he no longer needed her as his aide. But she had a far more important role to perform, as one of only two consecrated priests who'd first survived the holocaust and then chosen to make this passage, than playing at being a star pilot. Passionately though he himself loved to fly, daKiev couldn't begin to understand why Sheena had insisted on taking it up.
I wonder if she's capable of conceiving? Despite having had full access to her file at Great Chapter House, where she'd been his assistant during his days as Great Mother's private secretary, he had no idea. He'd never delved into Mother Allyn's medical data. Not even during their brief but intense time of intimacy, although he wondered now why it hadn't occurred to him then that he might be well advised to worry about his more youthful partner's contraceptive arrangements.
It was even less his business now than it had been at Great Chapter House, before Sigrid found them out by less dramatic means than an unsanctioned pregnancy. Yet looking at this woman who might under other circumstances have borne his child, just after he'd let himself consider the implications of seeing the Sedna line reduced to a pair of aging males, made such thoughts of Sheena seem quite natural.
Greg Wolfenden's voice came over the commlink. "Spirit of New Thecla to Daughter of Ceres. Captain, do we have a commodore in the control room?"
"We do, Captain Wolfenden." Durant kept her voice even, but daKiev caught an undercurrent in it that matched the pride on Aisha Tambour's face. Academy graduate though he was, young Greg had spent his short career in the Home Guard. That ended on the day he and his patrol partner saw a new kind of "nosey-globe" streaking out of space through Farthinghome's skies. When Durant commanded the Spirit of New Thecla, she'd placed him next to her because the makeshift starfleet had so few experienced officers; and now, departing from Minerva for the second time, she had persuaded Greg's mother and commodore to put him in command of the converted transport ship.
"Captain Wolfenden. That sounds pretty good. Damned if you weren't right about that kid of mine, Janet." Tambour spoke softly to her flag captain. Then she raised her voice, addressing herself to the pickup. "Tambour to all captains. Let's move out!"