The Bosch broke cloud cover and banked low over
the City of Shores, Athkiyar, spread below in a pattern
of stone, sand, and the dark green of ancient soil gardens.
The endless waterways gleamed in occasional slips of sun
through pewter cloud.
Jet scratched over the roughness of slight stubble on
his face. The Bosch's view cut any glare there
might have been, but he squinted, thinking. Faces rose
in his mind's eye. His mother and father ... gone now,
through the next gate, one with honor, one without. Uncle
Koll, the smell of smoke; his Aunt Kayla ... an oppressive,
echoing anxiety in his gut. The cousins--Kault, resentment
and the weight of heavy fists, Niell and Droikus, shadows
bulking behind Kault. And Dai. Dai, of them all, who part
of him wanted to see.
The tangle of conflicting emotions stripped years away
from him, as surely as the protective distance had been
stripped from between him and his family by his own spinning.
He could have spun them somewhere else, anywhere else
in the Aggregate. Could have told Arcady he didn't want
to come here--asked to be let out of his contract.
But Arcady and Snat trusted him to spin as requested,
and after serving as contract crew on a blurred succession
of ships, he'd found one where he honestly wanted to stay.
He wanted Arcady to offer him full crew option. Wanted
it almost more than he'd once wanted to get his persephone
string. He ghosted his fingers over the fine, strong chain
at his neck. The thin disc hung at the end, skin-warm
under his ship tee.
"What's the ambient?" Arcady's voice broke into Jet's
musings and he blinked down at the boards.
"Ease around to seven-three." Arcady listened to the com
button in her ear. Her gaze slid to Jet and an ill-boding
shiver worked from his gut to the top of his head. "Got
you, Main," she said curtly. "Will relay. Bosch
The last two words cut com. He could feel Arcady looking
She folded her hands in front of her on the board; it
should've been prim, but wasn't in Arcady. "Athkiyar Main,"
she said, "has asked me to inform my spinner, one Jet
am'Diia, that his cousin Dai am'Diia, a member of the
radical anti-enlightenment group suspected of being involved
in recent terrorist activities against the government,
She paused to scan the board, flicked a control. "Their
general drift seemed to be if you know anything concerning
her whereabouts, you better come across with it." She
pinned him with a look. "Do you?"
He considered the tightness in his gut that had been there
ever since entry into Athkiyar system. The Bosch
hummed heavily. Okuta class hauler, elderly and snug.
Com, boards, view and galley forward with crew quarters
for four in semicircular config; cargo above, drive core
and systems everywhere else. A reliable ship with a few
Snat watched in his monitor; Jet met the pilot's reflected
gaze, saw curiousity and challenge there.
His hand started to go to the sanction disc, to grip it
through the tee; he caught the movement, set his hand
back on the mons. It was a gesture he'd weaned himself
of some time back. Proximity to his family had brought
"Jet? Give me some react here. You don't know--"
"This Dai ... were you close?"
The ambient gauge under his hand registered drift and
he toggled it down, then said quietly, "Yes."
"Is she-" He could see Arcady trying to figure out what
she wanted to ask. "She's a, what is it, an anti-enlightenment
"Self-sovereign is what they call themselves. Anti-enlightenment
is what the Belcathat calls them. Dai ... she always had
strong feelings about ... things."
"The sanction arguments on Athkiyar are long standing,"
Snat said. "The Belcathat party has always held majority,
however. You have a dissident in the family? That's interesting."
"Actually," Jet said levelly, "my whole family are self-sovereign-dissident.
All the am'Diias. Except me."
He'd told Arcady about the persephone string right away,
having discovered it upset a captain to hire a spinner and
then find out he had a sanction to kill himself. People
tended to see it as a death wish. It didn't seem to matter
that the whole philosophy behind a persephone string was
the cultivation of a responsibly lived life, so that, if
the need still existed in one, death was made honorable
by the nature of the living which preceded it.
The official title of the string was Belcathat Sanction
of Enlightened and Honorable Passage from Life; the official
title was rarely remembered. Various sentient life -- depending
what planet, ship, station or rotting hole in the Aggregate
one was habitating -- called it simply the sanction, enlightenment,
the persephone string, saint's cord, deader chip, asshole's
delight. Or they just tossed you off the ship for having
Settled long ago by a small religious sect whose members
adhered to a complex philosophy of responsible life, Athkiyar
promoted a rather morose and serious psych set. They believed
that if the present world wasn't working out for you, you
could consider moving on to the next one, but that there
was a tithe to pay to pass that gate, and a responsibility
to be honored, to your life and all whom it touched.
You can't just give up,
was how Jet's sanction
mentor had put it, and leave a mess behind you. You have
to cultivate your brilliance.
After eighteen months standard, the mentor board had concluded
that Jet had an acceptable grasp of the responsibilities
of enlightened passage and Jet received his sanction. Jet's
mentor had suggested that Jet consider getting off Athkiyar
for a portion of his period of responsible action, to see
a wider slice of the Aggregate Worlds.
Athkiyar, though a big world with a rich economy, was well
off the ship routes and didn't see much traffic. With few
system-capable ships of its own and those private, it took
him nearly five months standard just to get transport off
to Quintep, to get evaluation and training to support himself
In evaluation he'd discovered what he'd never been given
the opportunity to suspect on Athkiyar, an aptitude for
spinning that was upper percentile. He could throw his numbers
into the air and pick the right ones every time. He hadn't
lacked for contract opportunities. But despite the hotshot
spinning, he'd been let go from service repeatedly. Because
of the sanction. Ten ships in four years, plus a stint on
a mining station in the dust belt.
Then he met Arcady Bosch
, who needed a spinner and
took him on as contract crew, hiring him despite what had
become a bad rep as a bad fit. Arcady, Jet learned, made
a habit of doing things people told her not to.
ran with a small crew. Arcady handled trade,
contracts, licensing, chose destinations, fielded all com
traffic, and did small mech repair. Jet spun the numbers
for deep nav and fed them to Snat. He also took care of
galley supply and helped Arcady with the mech repair. Snat
flew the Bosch
, did trade research for Arcady, and
ran diplomatic interference in slant culture situations.
Snat knew civstory and customs on about a hundred Aggregate
Worlds. Twice Arcady's age, he'd been with her since she
took captaincy. Sometimes Jet talked about old flash kives
with him. But Snat archived more information than Jet thought
a person ought to be able to hold in their head. Other than
number theory, spinner stuff, Jet archived pulp flashes.
The Jensai Xel adventures were favorites, and some of the
retro-epics out of Chaldinny. Warring families, sword battles,
poisonings, doomed love.
Snat said he was morbid.
Arcady said Snat liked him, but didn't approve of him, and
that he wouldn't let the one get in the way of the other.
Reg-thinking, she said, meaning regulation, and then got
a funny look in her eyes. From which he gathered that either
Arcady wasn't raised reg, or she was raised way too reg.
He wanted, so badly it frightened him, to be offered full
crew option when his contract was up. Then Arcady got this
contract, moving kives and Megrantian metals in exchange
for chi'ri glass and rare bio-chems, Athkiyar's main exports.
So here they were.
City of Shores, Athkiyar. Home.
They berthed the Bosch
in Athkiyar Main Port. The
only other ships were a longhauler out of Quinteppi and
a sleek little thing with Kakuli diplomatic markings, plus
the Beidian hulk that'd been there since Jet was a kid.
"Ship looked lonely," Arcady said as they left port
and boarded a transport.
Snat squinted at the leaden sky. "Is this good weather?"
"Perfect," Jet said. "It's not raining. Trifune Way,"
he added with a wave of his hand, playing guide as the transport
hove onto a long esplanade. Biolumes in mosaic chi'ri globes
cast petals of color down the main thoroughfare.
"Belcathat," Jet mumbled, throwing out his hand again as
the bonded sand of the lower city buildings gave way to
the fancifully carved stone of the Belcathat district. By
the time they reached the groomed sandpaths bracketing lush
soil gardens around the complex proper, he'd fallen silent.
Belcathat complex was a big square, walkways and soil gardens
all around, inner offices off archway-laced corridors. At
the center, the tower spired into cloud cover. Here and
there people strolled, Belcathat workers, groundskeepers,
an early class of students from the chi'ri school. The smoothed
sandpaths still bore the brush patterns of the late night
The sand gave under his feet as he stepped from the transport.
The sound and feel of it made him draw a sharp breath and
then the scents of water, stone, and greenery assaulted
him. Bloody void, anywhere but here.
Inside the Aggregate Traffic Office, tall windows of gray
and blue chi'ri threw light across a wide stone chamber.
Free standing holosphere comps glowed softly and soberly
suited bureaucrats, dwarfed by the architecture, interfaced
quietly at their comp stations, hands moving over the work
spheres. Occasionally someone spoke a soft phrase or a comp
Sanction discs glinted, worn on chains around the neck,
like Jet's, or hanging from worked pins attached to a pocket
edge. Some people had smaller discs, fashioned into rings
or bracelets. Unlike Jet's, they were all worn openly. Jet
saw a woman fidgeting with hers, a ring, as she peered into
her work globe. He also saw Arcady and Snat glancing about,
taking it in. Arcady's gaze dropped after a moment; she
looked briefly at Jet, then away.
At the trade and licensing desk, an older woman with augmentation
in her eyes scanned Arcady's license and logged the trade
vitals. She assigned an ATO verification rep to be present
for the exchange at Tenrethi's, Arcady's on-world customer.
They each palmed the log imprint on the comp pad. The pad
was cool; as Jet's hand appeared as a line etching, chemical
profiles scrolling beside it, the comp gave a decorous little
chime. The woman scanned her screen.
Jet pulled his hand back, stuck it in his pocket and bit
the tip of his tongue, trying to generate a little spit
in his dry mouth. "Yes, ma'am."
"You have a message;
if you wait one moment I can give you kive copy. Also, Authority
Forces would like you to stop by their office. Do you need
"The office is still on west corridor?"
"I can find it, then." The comp
spat out a little white message kive and the woman dropped
it in his palm. It was warm. After a moment, he curled his
fingers around the smooth lozenge and put it into a pocket.
Snat waved a hand. "I'll take one of those maps, cher."
The woman smiled and passed him a slim handset. "Prosper
Outside of the trade office, in the shadowed corridor, they
walked in silence. Through the archways the sky showed a
lighter shade of lead. A man with a mentor band on his arm
walked with an old woman along a nearby sandpath, talking
At the end of the north corridor, Arcady stopped and turned
to Jet. "Are you going to listen to that?"
He squeezed the message kive in his pocket, shrugged.
"Okay." She folded her arms. "Where's this office?"
"You and Snat don't have to come. I can meet you at
Arcady folded her arms, one eyebrow raised.
be a jerk, Jet. You're my spinner. What if they throw you
in the brig and won't tell me where you are? Spinners aren't
exactly thick on the ground here."
have brigs. Belcathat prisoners are--"
"They'll just ask me about Dai, where I think she might
be, anything I can tell them, that sort of thing."
"Sounds like a fascinating sociological study op, not to
be missed." Snat rubbed his hands together and smiled.
They struck Jet as white queen and black rook to his contract
pawn. He shrugged again. "Great, come. Experience the boredom
of the void. This way." He gestured dramatically down the
Authority Forces had frosted, colorless chi'ri figured in
the Belcathat sigil. The desks stood taller than in the
ATO and the personnel wore crisp gray uniforms. The man
at the entry desk surveyed them from under sand-colored
brows that never moved over his eyes. He listened to Jet's
murmured explanation, checked comp for how to dispose of
him, and told him he was to see a Parmen sec'Kyle, down
the right-hand hall and through the third door. He turned
his molecule-thin voice to Arcady and Snat next, informing
them that they could wait on the nice bench out here.
"Told you," Jet said.
"Personally," Snat said,
folding himself onto the bench and observing the Belcathat
officer, "I am not disappointed."
Arcady slouched beside him. She frowned generally, then
specifically at Jet. "We'll wait."
Parmen sec'Kyle's office window had a mostly open chi'ri
design, rather than a closed pane. Mostly open was traditional
Athkiyaran design, what one found in Athkiyaran homes. The
window showed soil gardens, pale sand walks, bits of the
gray stone of Belcathat tower and a holo-sculpture of Belcathar,
writer of the Words.
Parmen sec'Kyle was a mild, brown-haired man with a stoop
in his shoulders. He gestured Jet to a chair and leaned
back in his own, hands folded together over his chest.
"You hold a Sanction of Enlightenment, is that right,
"But your family
is, well," he looked out the window, the skin around his
eyes slightly puckered, "--the am'Diia branch of House Diia
has, historically, been quite active in the anti-enlightenment