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the homeworld.
Chapter Forty-Six
I
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For all good news there must be bad, for all good fortune balancing evil. That
which Marika garnered a week after fighting her way free of the homeworld was
the worst.
Alien warships had beaten her to the derelict. A Main Battle was there, with
riderships deployed, and it was evident that several Mistresses had stumbled
in to their deaths already.
Tired of fighting, of killing, of struggling on when there seemed no end to
the struggle, Marika nevertheless jumped in, leaving the Up-and-Over so near
the derelict the aliens remained ignorant of her advent.
The starship had been pounded into scrap, as had the starships belonging to
Jackson's expedition. Nothing lived except on the planet below. Marika reached
with the touch and found a few silth, but no starfarers. All those had been
driven away.
She drew the system's great black, disposed of the crew of the Main Battle,
then took the Up-and-Over while the riderships bustled about in panic. She
jumped to another world and found another alien waiting there, fully alert.
She departed rather than fight. She needed rest.
A second and third world proved equally perilous. The supply of golden liquid
was getting low. And her bath had been exposed to space too long. She had to
get down.
There was but one place left to flee, a world Henahpla had discovered, hidden
on the far side of the cloud. She had designated it as a last hiding place if
ever she were ousted from the derelict.
Could she survive so long a passage?
She made it, barely, but had to be aided down to the surface by the few silth
who had reached the world already. She collapsed once she was down, was only
vaguely aware of the chatter of silth afraid she would be lost to them.
She wakened occasionally, took a bit of broth. She suffered spates of delirium
in which she believed she was arguing with Grauel, Barlog, Bagnel, Gradwohl,
Kiljar, or even Kublin. She believed she was delirious when she overheard the
ongoing argument polarizing the makeshift encampment.
Once she staggered from her shelter and tongue-lashed the Mistresses and bath,
damning them for yielding to despair, but they did not understand her tangled
Ponath dialect. She collapsed before she could make them understand. They
restored her to her pallet and resumed their defeatist chatter.
Later, a Mistress came to inform her that another two darkships had come in.
She observed, "I think you are suffering from more than exhaustion, mistress.
A pity we have no healer sister."
Marika tried to rise. "I cannot be sick. I do not have time."
The Mistress pushed her back down. "A tired body is fertile for disease,
mistress. Rest."
"I have never been sick. Not a day."
"Good. You have a strong soul. You will recover more quickly."
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Perhaps. And perhaps her malaise was all of the soul, she thought. Lying
there, she had too much time to reflect. Jiana. How she had bristled at that
label in younger years. But how right they had been. They had smelled the
stench of death in her fur. She could deny it no longer. Doom had come
irrespective of her conviction.
Even now she fought confession. But how could she deny truth? She had been the
heart of it all along, and her backtrail was strewn with bones and ruined
cities. Yea, with ruined planets.
She should have perished in the Ponath with the rest of the Degnan pack.
Grauel and Barlog should have abandoned her when first she had offended them
with her wickedness. She should not have been born. She or Kublin.
The debate among the sisters continued without respite, swinging sometimes
this way, sometimes that, toward resumption of the struggle against the alien
invaders, or away. Marika charged into the lists in a rare lucid moment, after
days of introspection.
"It is too late for our kind. We are obsolete. The doom of silthdom was sealed
when first the Serke encountered the alien. We can struggle on but gain
nothing, like the Serke themselves after they were found out. We are what?
Eight darkships? Nine? Can so few turn the tide? Of course not. Why even try?
We are not wanted at home. Time has passed us by. The race have turned their
backs upon us. We are orphaned and exiled."
They heard her without interrupting, as befitted a most senior. Their
deference irked her. She was not deserving. "Do you understand? We are silth.
Silth have no tomorrows. If we live, we leave no legacy. The homeworld and
colonies are lost to us. We cannot breed. We cannot recruit. We are the last
of our kind. Understand that. The last. Representatives of the end of an age.
If we continue the struggle we will serve no one well, silth or the race. In
the broader view of the race, we can do nothing but harm. We must let the race
go. Let them learn the new ways of rogue and alien. We must not torture them
further, for they will need every hope to survive."
Marika settled to the barren, rocky earth of the campsite, her energy
expended.
Not one sister spoke in opposition, though in a strictly silth context her
remarks amounted to heresy. She took a series of deep, relaxing breaths.
"Good, then. Let us examine our position. I doubt we will find we have
supplies enough to last long. Decisions will have to be made around that fact.
I have a task for a volunteer. A darkship will have to sneak back to the
homeworld, to the edge of touch, to carry the news that Jiana will lead till
the end."
Still no sister spoke.
"We have all been doomstalkers," Marika suggested. "Making tomorrow by
fighting it. Come, sisters. Let us see what supplies we have and can recover."
They began to murmur as they worked, questioning her sanity. Those who had
argued against going on had, perhaps, counted on her to overrule them. Now
they wondered what had become of Marika the tireless, the unyielding, the
savage, feral silth who had grown up to become the very symbol of conservative
silthdom.
II
Page 167
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