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Strategist In Glass

Daniel E. Blackston


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tarhood tossed the galactic transports on the map like he was rolling a hand of dice. Six silver tokens sprinkled just outside of Tyme's gravity puddle in direct contact with the Hylomen fleet. General Kima looked at the battle maps, wiped his brow with a black handkerchief, then glanced skyward where the twin suns of Atoman inched toward zenith.

"Insanity," the General said. "The Prince has let you go too far this time. Would you deploy troop transports next to the enemy fleet without support?"

"Each transport is armed with two ripguns," Starhood said. "More than enough. One would silence the sector."

"Only a machine would believe that. Your guns are untested. The transports need the usual escort."

A kaleidoscopic pattern flashed on the maps as the twin suns streamed through Starhood's crystalline body. Mandalas of light shifted on the cartographs each time he gestured or moved his head.

"This isn't the usual operation, General Kima. It's a surprise attack. If you'd studied moneycurrents, you'd know it's too expensive to send warships to three fronts simultaneously. Prince Clypto is a brilliant man. Receptive to creativity, receptive to change. Not only in matters of strategy, but in the selection of staff officers as well."

Kima gazed out at the garden and mopped his slab-like face, as red now as the hymmberry flowers whose paned petals were half-budded. The golden death's-head of his rank insignia gleamed in the double noon, his thick neck bulged behind the collar of his uniform. He clenched and unclenched his left hand.

Very slowly he said, "I won't accept battle plans from a machine. How can a toy take responsibility for living beings? The men and women on those transport ships have blood, hearts, and bones. They're my responsibility."

"No. Your responsibility is to carry out orders. The Prince instructed me to show you my plan. Not negotiate about it."

"I'll speak to Prince Clypto myself!" the General shouted. "But I won't send in troops without heavy escort."

Kima spun away and walked quickly toward the palace.

Starhood watched him go, then shifted his gaze to the blossoming rows of thrustgoldens. Their transparent, head shaped blossoms seemed to entangle beams of the double suns. A glint of purple flashed between the stalks and passed down the row peeping through where the undergrowth permitted.

He ambled out onto the cobblestones. Not knowing how to prepare himself for Kya Rose he stood motionless and listened to the rhythm of the fountain. Just once he looked at the diaphanous sculpture, a lounging girl blown in blue glass, tapered feet dangling in the pool. The whole of Prince Clypto's garden was delicate, crystalline species and décor, including himself. He searched for something solid amid the facets of the flowers and his own gleaming limbs.

Kya Rose emerged from the thrustgoldens with her head tilted slightly to the left, the usual way when she was looking for him. Starhood hesitated to move. He realized that Kya found his shambling walk unpleasant. Even to a sympathetic human the best it accomplished was to remind them he was an artifact. But Kya.. She glided like a bird, her flesh as dark as the soil of the garden. He stared where it showed through the purple circlets of her sleeves and on her smooth cheeks. Twin shadows swept toward his feet as she hurried forward, gave a slight curtsy, then extended her flame shaped hands. She spoke in Granlayian. "Oh, Star, the Prince comes. With word from my father."

He looked away. "Kya, you mustn't hope that your father will give in to-- "

"I don't hope for that," she said.

When she released his hands, Starhood felt a rushing vertigo. He saw himself scaling the wall of Kya's tower under the triple moons. He saw Kya brushing her black hair by a silver mirror.

"What's wrong, Star?"

"The suns are going to zenith. Overloading my prisms."

She laughed, then turned her head abruptly as though embarrassed, and they both gazed out at the garden.

"I want to tell you something," he said. "On every world I've ever been I ceased to exist at night. But here when the moons are full.. First I began to dream. Now sometimes I actually wake."

"It must be beautiful in the garden at night alone."

"The first few nights I spent on strategy. That's when I conceived of the plan to kidnap you. On a moonlit night, pondering here. I regret it."

"You were created to be a slave, Star. Don't think I blame you. Just that you seem so human sometimes and I'm so lonely. It's funny. You're glass. And yet.. Human. The Prince is flesh, yet not human at all."

"My first dreams were of you," he said.

She stared at him and her amber eyes gleamed. "Of me? But you said you dreamed before-- "

"Yes, before. The moonlight here has brought you to me many times."

Starhood crossed to the fountain. He bent over and looked at his face, a sphere of seamless glass. Four sight panels commanded three-quarters of it, bulbous ovals like insect eyes. A y-shaped mouth arced under six small holes that served as scent-cones. Starhood realized for the first time that the face was similar to the heavy pressure-helmets worn by gas miners on Olanda 10.

"Can I tell you something else I've been doing by moonlight?" he asked.


"Writing poetry. Not military strategy, but poems." He backed away from the fountain and turned to Kya. She gazed at the lounging girl.

"I didn't know you could write poems."

"Would you like to hear one?"

"Very much."

"No. Never mind. In fact, you may not like them. That would be tragic because they were written for you. And about you. It's no use disguising it, Kya. I love you.. "

He carefully watched her reaction. First, her face lost all expression, then she turned away and paced quickly to the fountain. Starhood watched her kneel down to peer into the pool. "Love? But, Star - you're a machine."

"And so are you. Blood. Bones. Heart. Parts just like mine. Conduit. Prism. Socket. I'm a machine of crystal, you're one of flesh. But we're both made of parts, and more.. There's the sum of the parts. Something charged with-- "

"Sunlight?" she said.

Starhood waited for her to turn away from her own image before he answered. He looked into her eyes and said, "Sometimes. And sometimes moonlight. And sometimes," he took a step toward her and reached out a crystal hand.

"Kya Rose! Kya Rose!"

A gruff voice boomed out loudly in the guttural Ylah tongue.

Kya started away. Her arm shot back and her legs stiffened. Starhood remained in his leaning gesture, a hand poised to touch Kya's hair. At that moment Prince Clypto appeared from behind the thrustgoldens, flanked by the Minister of Finance, Ruin, and the Fleet Admiral, Jyleen.

Clypto glanced briefly at Starhood like he'd noticed a bug on one of the crystal stems, and then swung an arm out to halt his entourage. His face turned stormy when he saw Kya.

"You're predictably contrary," he said in Granlayian. "I thought I'd made my intentions clear about your staying in the tower when we holospoke this morning."

The Prince was a hook-nosed man. Short and barrel chested, with flushed cheeks and yellow hair cropped so close it looked like the top of his head had been dipped in gold. His voice rang with a righteous cadence.

"I was with her the entire time," Starhood said.

All three men looked at him as though a tree had suddenly uttered words. Clypto smiled. "Why, Hood! You've spoken on your own initiative. For the first and last time. I tell you, Ruin, this astounds me. Have you ever seen a machine with a conscience? If I didn't know better, I'd say he's in league with Kya Rose."

"Simply an overdose of freedom," said the Minister. "Most machines don't escort His Highness' guests. Nor argue with his military advisors."

Clypto smirked. "I believe he has a conscience," he said. "Otherwise, why submit a plan for a siege, rather than attack, against Granlay?"

"There is the Hylomen campaign," Starhood said.

"Your plan is adequate. So why tremble at Granlay?"

Admiral Jyleen cleared his throat and said in Ylah, "She's an unfriendly, Highness."

Clypto glared at Kya. "Get out of here."

The corners of Kya's mouth twitched in a brief frown, she stared hard into Clypto's eyes, and then wheeled away toward the palace. Starhood's feet shuffled on the cobblestones as he watched her cross, head held high, into the tower's shadow.

Clypto drew a breath.

"Ozzetti refuses to lower the Harmony shield. Even on penalty of his daughter's life. You were wrong, Hood."

"You overestimated the father-daughter bond," Minister Ruin said. "Easy to understand. Since you're not even human."

"So. A stalemate," Starhood said.

"No," the Prince said. "We destroy Granlay. And I slit Ozzetti's throat personally."

"And the shield?"

Admiral Jyleen pointed at Starhood. "You calculate disruption coordinates. Use the ripguns to get six ships and the Royal Cruiser into the atmosphere."

Starhood made a deprecatory gesture. "Even under the twin suns calculations of this nature will consume much time." He saw Clypto draw a deep breath and hastily added, "But I'll start on them right away. Are you going to tell Kya?"

The Prince snapped his full face at Starhood and frowned. He pointed with a crooked index. "What are all these lifelike questions? I expect no less from you, Hood, than to be a complete automaton. Don't you think you should stop pondering intrigues and get to work?"

"Of course," Starhood said. He accepted a datacube from Jyleen, and watched the three men exit to the palace. The twin suns began their descent just as Starhood returned to his worktable. He glanced at the cartographs he and Kima had argued over, and then began to plot the disruption of the Granlay shield.

* * * 

Kya lay face-up on the downy mattress of her silk-sheeted bed and counted the roses, full and half-budded, embroidered on the canopy overhead. She despised the overtly feminine décor of the tower room, its scent of lavender potpourri and fresh linen. As though softening the place with birds and flowers, colored origami, could change what it was: a prison cell.

She sat up, propped on two huge pillows, and withdrew one of the pins from her hair. In the muted hololights the tiny head of the pin gleamed, polished ebony sphere half the size of the nail on her little finger. She snapped the spherical head between her thumb and index, inhaled the misty scent of telepathine, and raised the cracked ampule to her lips.

The lock on the room's only door tumbled.

Kya looked in the direction of the entrance, startled to find her view of the door blocked by the gilded, three-paneled screen she'd forgotten separated the bed from the rest of the chamber. She shoved the broken pin under the pillows.

The hinges squeaked; she heard Clypto's rough voice. "I'll go in alone. Wait on the landing."

The door clanged shut.

Kya stood and glanced at the single window. She'd closed the heavy drapes, but now wanted to throw them open simply to have something to look at rather than the Prince. Before she could step toward the drawstring, Clypto appeared. He looked at her, crossed his muscular arms, and bobbed back and forth on his feet.

"Strip," he said. His voice was flat but failed to conceal his excitement.

Clypto took a step forward.

"I said strip. Now."

Kya smelled the reek of wine on his breath. She reached behind and pulled each of the three knots that tied her dress. With her eyes steadily on the Prince, she stepped out of the dress and let it spill to the floor.

The Prince let out a long, shuddering breath. One hand reached for Kya's body, but his feet stayed rooted in place. She tossed her dark hair and thrust a leg toward him. "Come, Prince. Take what's yours," she said.

Clypto's hands trembled. The veins in his temples throbbed. His eyes followed the dark, supple camber from Kya's breast to her thigh - and locked on the quartet of needle-horned pinchers that arced, one pair from each inner-leg.

Kya laughed.

"Did you ever dream the universe would design a woman you couldn't rape? Your soldiers will resent Granlay women. Perhaps some of them will find out the hard way the importance of consent."

Clypto sighed. He squinted, eyes still locked on the black-horned pinchers, and wiped his glistening brow.

"Such men you must have on your world," he said. "Begging for it all the time. What can I offer you, Kya? My bended knee?"

She shook her head.

"The Ruler of the Galactic Cluster. Look at you now, Prince. But come forward. Take me the way you've taken countless other women."

The Prince said, "You could persuade me to spare your world. And your father."

Kya ran the tip of her index finger along the inner-curve of her thigh, and petted the tips of her pelvic horns. "They'll survive you anyway."

Clypto clenched his fist. With his other hand he drew a silver poniard from a sheath at his hip. He gestured with the blade. "I'll hack them off."

"And I'll be cold before you touch a finger to me. You can't amputate them, fool."

"I'll destroy your world!" The Prince shouted. "All the cities. People. I'll grind Granlay to dust." He cocked his fist and drew back. Kya stood rock still.

The Prince seemed to tremble under the force of an enormous weight, then abruptly relaxed and dropped his hand to his side.

"Put your clothes on," he said.

He turned from her and stalked out of the room. The locked clanged as Kya reached under the pillows for the ebony ampule.

* * * 

Starhood emerged from blankness into the silver halo of the triple moons. He found himself seated at his worktable, a cartograph before him arranged for a mock-assault on the planet Granlay. His thoughts picked up exactly where he'd left them when he lost awareness.

A crucial detail remained in calibrating the ripguns to shatter Granlay's Harmony Shield. The basic dilemma was power. There was enough power planet side to reenergize the shield if it should falter. Conversely, the fleet had a fraction of that power available for disruption.

Ripguns at maximum intensity would scatter the shield particles for nine seconds. The fleet required at least ten seconds to cross. It was a slim margin to fail by. He pondered the figures in moonlight. After two-dozen attempts to patch systems and divert power, Starhood still found himself short on time. If the Granlay bases responded at peak efficiency the shield could be recalibrated before the fleet passed safely through.

He stood and shuffled along the cobblestones. Light rebounded in spangles from the crystal sheaths of the drowsing flowers. Clypto's garden seemed, in moonlight, less the garden of a conqueror than a poet. And the shadows of the garden seemed to whisper of a world where there was no war, nor battle-plans to be constructed.

Starhood turned his gaze to the tower where Kya Rose was held prisoner. His eyes traced the rough stones, sealed by mortar in a cobbled pattern. The tower's dimensions and the density of the stone recalled themselves spontaneously through his memory. It occurred to him that he could scale the outside of the tower using the rough stonework for leverage. He could scale to the single window where moonlight splashed coldly over the glass. He could enter the tower and convince Kya to trust him. Only two sentries guarded the pocket starship that had brought General Kima to Atoman. He could race away from Atoman with Kya Rose at his side. But race to where? His exposure to military operations gave him enough data to realize how far the regime of the Ylah family extended. No known planet, with the exception of Granlay, had resisted the Ylah juggernuaght. And Granlay would fall very soon.

He paced back to his worktable. The starship tokens were laid out in a crescent formation. Nine seconds. One second too short to be sure. If the fleet failed to clear the shield every ship, including the Royal Cruiser, would be atomized.

Moonlight streamed over the cartographs.

Starhood began to download calibrations that would leave Clypto and the invasion fleet one second of uncertainty in the attack on Granlay. One second, during which Granlay would either seize a victory and perhaps inspire rebellion among other worlds - or fall under the fist of the Ylah family and deliver the Galactic Cluster into Prince Clypto's hands.

* * * 

The telepathine carried the scent of minted roses and caused Kya's fingertips to tingle as she inhaled from the ebony ampule. In darkness, alone in the tower, she breathed deeply, and then drained the small potion with a single sip.

Immediately, the shadowy contours of the room animated with life. The walls bowed toward her, the floor shifted to a watery texture and the chairs, bed stands, and the bed itself stretched, losing form until only streaks of ash, sable, and white remained. The room rainbowed into twining prisms of light. Kya zoomed into the sea of colors and broke through them, surfacing bodiless into a richly furnished room where a blazing hearth slashed firelight over warm tones of mahogany and bright, geometric tapestries.

Her father sat in a plush chair near the fire, a heavy book on his knees. His long-stemmed pipe dangled from his lips, a corkscrew of blue smoke smoothing into the air. As the room materialized around her, Kya's father raised his head and looked directly in her eyes. Kya felt a surge of love at the sight of his leonine face, which was kindly with a smooth braided beard speckled with gray. Her father's skin and eyes were darker than Kya's own and exuded a shadowy halo, invisible outside of telepathic communication.

"Kya. " he said, his words sounding directly in her mind.

"Yes, Father. I've come with news. The Prince brings the fleet to finish the war.'

"Our own fleet awaits," her father said. "If they force the shield we can and will defend Granlay. But I'm sorry you had no chance to.. "

"The Prince is careful. But tempted. It may happen yet."

"How much telepathine remains?"

"Two ampules."

"I pray we'll be together before you have need of them, daughter."

"I pray with you."

Her father smiled. Kya felt the warm colors of his study reach around her like loving arms. She smelled the scent of his sweet tobacco and the odor of his body which had signaled safety and belonging to her for a lifetime.

The firelight intensified and the study swirled until its image was as streaked as clay on a potter's wheel. Kya spun with the disintegrating vision, then found herself lying in a shaft of moonlight, stretched out on the sift bed in the tower where she was Price Clypto's captive, an image of her father's face still beaming in her mind.

* * * 

The twin suns dipped from zenith as Starhood ambled through the garden searching for Kya Rose. When Clypto was absent she usually walked the garden three or four times each day. She'd failed to appear this morning. Now, just after noon, he walked the cobblestones certain to find her.

He stopped under the tower, gazed at the single window glazed with sunlight, then heard the sound of footsteps nearby. A quartet of uniformed figures headed his way. Leading the group was Toyla, Prince Clypto's younger brother. At his flanks were Generals Kima and Holet. And Jyla, the Commander of the Lawbinders, Prince Clypto's secret police force.

Kima spotted him first. The General's massive face snapped into an expression of surprised satisfaction. He shot a finger in Starhood's direction and placed a hand on the Prince's shoulder. Prince Toyla was shorter and stouter than his elder brother, with a square face and a low, heavy brow. His yellow hair tumbled to his shoulders. Unlike Clypto who sported a military costume, Toyla dressed in the sacred robes of the Psychotemple and wore the Prime Eye of the Galactic Diocese. Starhood watched the young Prince pace forward, face flushed red, blue eyes blazing.

"Traitor!" the Prince shouted.

Starhood raised a hand to protest but Jyla stepped up, sunlight glinting off the triple moons on his black collar. The Commander of the Lawbinders was lanky, with hollow cheeks and cruel, dark eyes. He pulled a pistol from a holster at his hip.

"You're under arrest for the crime of High treason and for conspiracy to murder the First Son of Holy Emperor Ylah."

Starhood said flatly, "What do you mean?"

Kima exploded. "The fleet is destroyed! Lost to a man! The Prince is dead. Atomized. Because of you! A soulless toy!"

"Enough, General," Prince Toyla said.

He turned to Starhood, clenched his jaw, and said, "All my life I've been waiting for the day when I would be called to avenge the murder of my father or my elder brother. Now I find myself burdened with an enemy, which has no flesh to burn. No bones to grind. Which feels no pain, which loves nothing. But there's one thing, one person that you are deeply interested in. Through her I will triple your treachery."

Starhood said, "You seem convinced that I've betrayed you. This is impossible. I'm not a man, Prince Toyla. I've no passions, nor resentments to cause me tot turn traitor. Perhaps my calculations were in error. I won't dispute that. But there was no malice - nor could there have been - in my plans."

Kima said, "It was faulty machinery, not treason, that lost the Prince and the fleet. This thing could no more turn against us than our shoes."

Prince Toyla rocked his head back and forth.

"Whether by design, or no, this machine is a traitor to the Empire. The answer lies within the crystal itself. We will return to Ylah and dismantle it. Inspect every bit of crystal, every loop of light. Until then guard it with double sentries in one of the tool sheds. Transport it tomorrow morning with the other. She, at least will be easy to interrogate. And execute."

"If Ozzetti's fleet doesn't destroy us before then," Kima said quietly, but Starhood heard it.

"Stay here," the Prince said to Jyla. "I'll send two men to relieve you." He gestured at Starhood. "If it makes a single move blast it into particles."

* * * 

Starhood raised a hand in moonlight. He stood in a circle of silver near the bowing thrustgoldens and gazed in joyous disbelief at his flesh. No longer transparent, his skin shadowed in warm ebony, smooth and soft. He delighted in the webbing between his fingers, the triangular pores, and the tiny hairs that bristled beneath his knuckles. He savored the slide of air in and out of his body.

Something about the moonlight was musical and it seemed if he listened down into the softly swaying stalks of the garden that he heard the music become words. With his eyes closed, Starhood let the poem of the triple moons flow through him.

Nothing so silver as the moons of love
And the sweep of bodies that mount the stars
To ride dreaming into a galaxy of light.

She comes beyond flesh or stone
And spirals a river from her beating heart
To your body, once crystal, now sinew and bone.

When he opened his eyes Starhood saw Kya walking toward him on the cobblestones. Her arms were spread wide and from them hung the bells of her sleeves like swaying, white veils. He felt a sting at the sight of her. The deep brown of her breasts and her flame shaped hands pierced him with exquisite pain. He staggered forward and took her into his arms.

Starhood saw his face reflected in Kya's shimmering, brown irises. It was a handsome, bearded face, warm with pleasant wrinkles near the eyes and the corners of his ample lips. A feeling of completion, of belonging, surged through his breast. He pressed his lips to hers and smelled the musky odor of skin and the flowery scent of her hair. Kya's body relaxed against him.

Then she was gone.

He found himself seated on a concrete floor surrounded by a puddle of moonlight. Not far away, a uniformed guard dozed in a wooden chair, a rifle across his knees. The crossed-sword insignias on his collar and cuffs beamed with silver radiance.

Starhood rose silently from the floor. Behind him was the only window, through which the triple moons rushed light, enough to drive his dreams, enough to wake him. Outside, the cough of the second guard shot through his prisms like a summoning.

He turned away from the window and crossed soundlessly to stand over the sleeping guard, still in the strip of moonlight. It was a young man, beardless and smooth featured. Starhood's right hand leeched to the guard's neck and squeezed.

The guard opened his eyes and began to throttle around, rifle bobbing on his knees. Starhood clenched tighter, tighter until the blue eyes rolled back and the soldier's body sagged limp. Luckily, the rifle remained partially in the soldier's lap, the butt braced against the floor. Starhood released the soldier and left the lifeless flesh slumped in the chair.

He strode to the door and listened. The low, steady sound of the sentry's breathing was audible and, intermittently, a soft rustle sounded against the wooden door.

He reasoned the man leaned there, probably close to falling asleep at his post, as the other had done.

Starhood considered various tones and inflections before he mimicked the youthful, sardonic voice he'd often heard soldiers use.

"Hey, come in here. You've got to see this."

An instant later the door cracked open. Starhood stepped slightly to the side. The door opened inward, behind it came the sentry. Starhood saw his face in moonlight: shaggy, gray beard and tired looking eyes. The face was coarse, the body beneath it broad shouldered and corpulent. The sentry wore his overcoat unbuttoned and towed his rifle in one hand, stock dragging the ground.

He never saw the crystal elbow that smacked into his left side, splintering ribs and driving the breath out of him like he'd been hit with a mallet. The open hand chop to the throat that followed silenced whatever panic had ignited in the sentry's mind forever.

Starhood moved out of the tool shed into moonlight. He contemplated the blood smeared on the tips of his crystal fingers and saw a flash of the young guard's sleeping face. Soon, he reached the tower and looked skyward to patchy black clouds that seemed to find each other, stitch together, partially obscuring the moons.

He began to scale the tower, hands and feet grappling as though every step was foreknown. Now and again the moons slipped beneath the thickening cloud cover and he felt himself touched by vertigo. When moonlight stabilized him, Starhood looked to the sky. Black clouds clustered overhead like grappling fingers and clenched two moons in a fist of darkness. The third moon, Opheli, floated through the firmament, a pale eye staring lone witness to his labor as Starhood scaled toward Kya's window, murder and moonlight colliding in the prisms of his skull.

* * * 

Kya stared into the mirror and contemplated death. Not hers, though her death-sentence had been imposed by Prince Toyla. She tried to visualize Clypto at the moment of his disintegration, tried to see his haughty features stricken with alarm, tried to hear the desperate commands shouted, in vain, to save his fleet and his life. How easily she'd been drawn from noble defense of her people and her world to the ignoble fantasies of a murderer. True, she'd murdered no one, but her heart pounded with murderous desire. Kya wanted intimate domination over her enemies.

An image of Starhood's face flashed through her mind. Suddenly she realized he'd played a role in the destruction of Clypto's fleet. But was that possible? Could a machine perceiver injustice? Brutality? Tyranny? And act against it?

She stared into the mirror and heard Starhood's words, "I love you.. "

Surely not the kind of love a man meant for a woman when he said them, for Starhood was not a man. Physical love could play no part in his feeling for her. Was his love like her father's love, born out of nurturing?

And now her father and the Granlay fleet would race to counterattack. Her heart soared with pride. But somehow.. Starhood.

She looked into the moonlit mirror. How soulful she looked wreathed in celestial light. She believed Starhood could love. But could she love him back? That light had taught him to love, and now seemed to instruct her with an image of herself more holy, more ethereal than she could ever attain

As though following her thoughts, a shaft of silver slid into the tower room and descended over her like a spotlight. On impulse, she reached for the ebony brush that lay on the dressing table. She began to brush her hair, remembering how, as a young girl, she had spent hours before a mirror pretending to be a beautiful Queen, Ruler of myriad solar systems, a fleet of starships under her command.

Just then an image shone out of the mirror in the left corner where moments before there had been only darkness. It was a face emblazoned in silver. Moonbeams streamed through it and exploded in shimmering ripples throughout the room.


Kya shot out of the chair and whirled to face the window, brush in hand. The crystal face shined there, framed in the portal like a portrait. Starhood's bulb-shaped sight panels sparkled with the dance of moonlight. Kya stared, motionless, and her knees quivered as his crystal hand touched the glass, spread wide as though in greeting.

She lunged toward the window and let the brush drop to the floor. The instant it thudded on the carpet, the tower room plunged into blackness. Kya was blinded by the sudden dark. A terrible crash boomed out as though the sheaves of moonlight had shattered - a vast windowpane hammered by a fist of darkness.

Kya rushed to the window and, with her motion, moonlight re-emerged. She saw the sky through the glass pane, a canvas of jagged clouds through which Atoman's largest moon, Opheli, peered like a vast, cyclopean eye.

She followed the lunar gaze to the patio below. There, a trillion tossed jewels, a sea of glass spread over the cobblestones. The shards gleamed like ice in the pale moon glow.

* * * 

"Ah, daughter, you look more beautiful than on any other day since you were born."

Kya smiled at her father and accepted his outstretched hands in her own. The tower room was dappled with beams of the rising suns. She thought how harmless it looked now. Frail décor and flowered draperies, trivial as the set of a play after the curtain had fallen and the house lights turned on. Mirror, brush, bed and window, all furnishings of an ephemeral dream.

She moved to the single window and looked out over the gardens. Granlayian soldiers in uniforms of blue and gray dotted the grounds. Behind them soared the silhouettes of hovercraft as they searched the outlaying woods. Now and then a flash of white gleamed over the tree line followed by a rumbling roll of thunder.

Kya lowered her gaze to the foot of the tower and saw a handful of soldiers picking through the pile of crystal shards. A handsome, bearded fellow raised a large piece of gleaming crystal high into the double suns. The soldiers smiled and pointed past the tower's shadow where rainbows danced on the cobblestones.




© 2003, Daniel E. Blackston
Originally published in Talebones, 2001

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