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the best of them, but behind closed doors with me... well, I guess a really
good diplomat always suits her words to her audience.
If this reallywas Sam. I had to remind myself it could be fake. But a fake by
someone who knew exactly how Sam talked to me in private.
"The thing is, Edward," she went on, "I'm still alive. As you can see. It's
way too complicated for me to explain right now, but I will someday, I
promise. In the meantime, I want to make sure you're all right... and that
means you have to join me on Troyen."
She reached toward the camera lens and turned it to one side. It swung around
to show a golden summer afternoon in a place I knew well the Park of the
Silent God, on the outskirts of Unshummin city: no more than fifteen
kilometers from Verity's palace. Sam and I used to go there for walks all the
time, especially during the redfish migrations each spring; the park's creek
would turn scarlet with thousands of new hatchlings, and the air would fill
with the strong smell of sugar-sap, as Mandasars heated cauldrons on the
shore. Redfish boiled in sugar-sap... we ate that every year, sitting on the
creek bank under the diamond-wood trees.
The trees were still there I could see them in the camera shot. Twenty years
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taller and thick with green leaves. I always liked those leaves: they were the
same color of green as the oaks on my father's estate.
"Not much sign of the war, is there?" Sam said in a soft voice. "That's
because it's almost over. One queen has come out on top, and I'm her favorite
advisor. By the time you get here, there'll be peace; and I can protect you
from those bastards on the High Council of Admirals."
She swiveled the camera lens back and looked straight at me. "If you want the
honest truth, Edward, I know everything that's happened to you. I found out
aboutWillow, and how they sneaked in to get a queen. The idiots took Queen
Temperance, Edward the last queen who was standing in the way of peace. She's
one of the outlaw queens and nearly the most vicious tyrant on the whole
planet, even if she has a placid-sounding name.
"So I know what's going to happen," Samantha went on."Willow will pick you
up, then head for Celestia. Dumb idea the momentWillow crosses the line, the
League of Peoples will execute Temperance and most of the ship's crew. Maybe
all of them. You're safe, brother, because there isn't a more innocent person
in the entire universe... but whenWillow coasts into Starbase Iris and the
navy sees all the corpses, the High Council will have a grade A large
conniption.
"Next thing you know, they'll try to get rid of you, Edward. That's how
admirals think when they screw up big-time, their first reaction is to lose
the witnesses down some deep hole. And I don't want to let you get lost."
She smiled again: a big bright smile that made me want to smile back... even
though a dozen worrying thoughts were nibbling at the back of my mind. If Sam
didn't want me getting lost, why had she let me sit on the moonbase for twenty
years and never once tried to contact me? If she was the top queen's closest
advisor, couldn't Sam have found a way to send a message? But no word at
all no hint she was alive till suddenly I left the Troyen system, andthat's
when she got in touch.
Like she was happy to ignore me, right up to the point when I headed home.
But the message kept playing, and Sam kept smiling: my smart and pretty
sister who taught me everything I knew. "I didn't find out aboutWillow right
away," she was saying. "Not till they'd taken you with them. But I'm sending
people after you, Edward, to get you back. It turns out I have a starship: a
nice black one, run by Mandasar friends. If you want the honest truth, it used
to belong to the navy a sweet little frigate namedCottonwood. But, umm..." She
leaned toward the camera and said in a loud whisper, "I stole the ship,
Edward. Just before the war started. I knew the navy would stop all traffic to
and from Troyen, and I wanted an escape route in case things got really bad."
"Hold!" I snapped. My sister froze in the middle of a blink, her eyes [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]