CHAPTER TWO – KERRA
The planet hung below, a shimmering cast of sea and cloud. This was an old planet: Kerra could feel it in the bones of her body, in the dry aged knowledge of them. Silence hung around her, waiting her decision.
“Anything from the planet?” she asked.
“An old distress signal,” Rana said. He flashed her a smile, one that she knew the promise within, but she ignored him. A mission was not the time to indulge, no matter how pleasant that indulgement was. Especially a mission that she hadn’t filed a flight-plan for, had taken out of the mesh, and which had taken her far beyond the Seven-Stars. A mission she hadn’t, truly, expected to succeed in.
Excitement bubbled. She’d spent the last weeks imagining returning to her father and telling him what she had achieved. This was his mission, although he did not know of it, carried out on the back of their last meeting, on a planet deep in the outer zone.
Her father was so different to the one she’d known as a child. He may have fewer responsibilities but those that he had – that he added to each day – drained his energy. His face was thin – had always been so – and lined, as if the years spent under the baking sun of Abendau had stolen his vitality. But he’d been delighted to see her and had embraced her with the strong arms she’d always known. They’d stood as the sunset fell, a long, low one that seemed to last hours. The evening had been muggy, the day’s heat lasting into the darkness unlike in Abendau where it chilled in little more than an hour.
“Do you ever wonder…?” He’d plucked a moon-flower, the plant that was slowly colonising the terraformed planets, bred for its toughness, genetially matched to each planet, a green fertiliser which would, in years to come, provide fertile ground that could be farmed and allow this – and so many other planets, brutalised and hard-worn from years under the Empress – to feed its people. He pointed upwards. “What’s up there?”
She squinted, suspecting a trap. He knew she was a Controller. He knew she did not ask such questions. Even from the planet, her skills were so enhanced – and her place in the mesh so strong and assured – she could sense the call of the planet’s small satellite, the deep glow of this system’s young star.
“Space,” she offered after a moment, when he didn’t go further. “What else?”
He rubbed the moon-flower between his fingers, making its smell twine around them, musky and slow.
“Where we came from,” he said. He turned to face her, his face in lean shadows. Would she ever know him? They were connected by the mesh, of course, but would she ever understand how he could be sitting with her today, sane and strong? She knew, as she never had as a child, what he had faced. But knowing did not bring the understanding of what it had taken to move past the hell he’d been forced into.
“On Abendau,” he said, “they have a legend. About Anshara?”
“The tribal necklaces?” she said. Talk of the tribes made her think of Baelan: where he was, and if he was all right.
“They’re named after a tribal ancestor. That Anshara is supposed to have led the first people from the desert, to the waters of an oasis. They adore Anshara as a goddess. So much so, it was her image the Empress tried to make her own.”
His words were flat, unemotional, as if the Empress was a distant reality, not the mother he hated and who had hurt him.
“Anshara led her people from a ship, it’s told.” He dropped the flower and wiped his hands. “I’ve travelled most of the planets in the Seven-stars. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Outer zone planets.” He frowned. “Their people have a closeness to the old stories that many of the central planets have lost.” He checked off a finger. “Anshara, on Abendau.” The next finger. “On a satellite of Tortendiel, they have a temple to their past. Amazing place. It took me three days just to work through the index of the archive.” This, from Kare Varnon, whose mind took in data like a computer. “But, at last, I found it. There, they call it the Earth-ship. Their people, too, emerged from it.” Next finger. “On Ferran. Descendants of the Al-Halads. They tell the story of a dashing space captain, who … guess?”
“Led their people from a ship?” She knew where this was going.
He raised an eyebrow, and nodded. “Go on.”
“The Roamers. We are descended from the great sky-ship that lies under the flooded waters of Syltte.”
“Yes.” He ran a hand through his white hair, a sure sign he was engrossed in his train of thoughts. “I’ve traced the story to eight civilizations: the central stars and the Roamer planet. It varies a lot. Sometimes it’s a ship from the stars, sometimes a royal ship, sometimes a crash. But it was there, once I started to plot it.” Making links, doing what he was best at. He met her eyes. “We came from somewhere, Kerra.”
“Somewhere up there.” He pointed again. “Another planet. Another place. Another time.”
“So…?” She wondered if there was a reason he’d chosen this place to tell her, so close to the edge of the systems, far from any of the space hubs. Was it to keep his thoughts secret – he knew, too well, how information could be misused – or to make her believe. Because here, in this isolation, it was easy to believe.
“So, I’d love to work it out.” He clapped his hands together, sending up pollen into the air, spreading the plants further. “I thought having another brain to pick might be useful. And that, perhaps, when you are travelling you could keep an ear out for any more links. After all, no one travels more than a Roamer.”
The idea had taken seed, right then. He was right, no one travelled more than a Roamer. And no one else could fly without charts, or seek to find a planet that had never been mapped. That might not even exist.
She could find it for him. She didn’t ask if he was right, if his research was correct. It would be, she knew. She craned her head back, taking in the stars, and she had cast out with her mind, searching for the pattern he’d found in writings and stories replicated in the stars.
Now, some ten months later, she stared down at the blue planet, sure she’d found his Earth-cradle.