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.Eube had been an Aristo of course, a Highton in fact, part of the highest Aristo caste.Only a Highton could be emperor.Jai’s great-grandfather, Jaibriol I, had also been a Highton Aristo, as had been Jai’s grandfather, Ur Qox.Or so everyone believed.Only Jai knew the truth: his great-grandfather had bred psi traits into the imperial line.A powerful enough psion could use ancient technology that survived from the long-dead Ruby Empire, technology the modern age couldn’t reproduce—or defend against.But no Aristo could be a psion; the traits, considered a debilitating weakness, weren’t part of the Aristo gene pool.The genes that created a psion were recessive, which meant both parents had to contribute them to their child for the abilities to manifest.Jaibriol I had sired a son with one of his providers and forced his empress to acknowledge the child as her own, making the boy heir to the throne.It was an unspeakable abomination by Highton standards, but the emperor had been fanatically hungry for the power of the ancient Ruby machines.The boy, Ur Qox, had been Jai’s grandfather.Ur had the psi genes only from his mother, so he wasn’t a psion.But he too fathered a child on one of his providers—and that son, Jaibriol II, had been a Ruby telepath, the most powerful of all psions.He possessed the mental power to use the ancient machines, which would have made it possible for him to conquer human-settled space.Through him, the Aristos could have subjugated all humanity.Jaibriol II had other ideas.He had fled his heritage, appalled by its brutality, and secretly married another Ruby psion, a warrior queen of the Skolian Imperialate, Eube’s greatest enemy.Her name had been Soz Valdoria.Jai’s mother.So Jai had been born a Ruby telepath, the first child of Jaibriol II and Soz Valdoria.No one knew his mother and father had hidden in exile for fifteen years.But ESComm, the Eubian military, had finally found Jai’s father and torn him away from his idyllic life, never realizing he had a family.In secret, Jai’s mother had left her children on Earth, to protect them.Then she had launched the Radiance War—a shattering conflict that brought two star-spanning empires to their knees—all to rescue her husband from his own people.Jai’s parents had died in that war.One consolation remained to Jai, the knowledge that his mother and father had been reunited in an escape shuttle before a missile exploded it.They had died together.He struggled against the hotness in his eyes.The grief was too great; he had never been able to weep for their loss.He feared if he started, he would never stop.His parents had dreamed of a time when Eube and Skolia would know peace.Somehow, some way, he would turn that dream into reality.He would find a way to ensure that the two people who had gifted him with their unconditional love hadn’t died in vain.Drizzle misted over Eldrin, dampening his clothes and hair.His body ached from his last “chat” with his interrogators.He stared dully after the Traders as they walked toward their embassy, two Highton Aristos surrounded by four guards.He wondered what game of cruelty they were playing with him this time.The unfamiliar youth who had stayed here in the plaza spoke to Eldrin in stilted Highton, his accent almost too thick to understand.“Cold you are? We go back.”Eldrin narrowed his gaze.The youth looked about eighteen, average in height, a bit shorter than Eldrin, with brown hair and eyes, and a friendly face.If Eldrin hadn’t known better, he would have mistaken his new tormentor for a schoolboy from Earth.The youth glanced at Eldrin’s bound arms, then raised his gaze quickly, as if he didn’t want to look.“Like you to make your arms free?” he asked.Eldrin stepped back, his head jerking.What new tricks had they devised? His jaw clenched so hard, he felt tendons stand out in his neck.“Okay, we don’t have to do that,” the boy said in English, more to himself than Eldrin.In his terrible Highton, he added, “Go we to Allied Embassy.” He indicated a building.“Embassy.Allied Worlds.Earth.You come with me, yes?”They picked a good actor.Eldrin readied himself to fight or run.Realistically, he knew he would lose either way; he could do little with his hands locked behind his back.But he had to try.He couldn’t let them break him.“Come, yes?” the boy repeated.“We remove restraints.”Eldrin had intended to stay silent, but he couldn’t keep his hatred inside.“Go rot in a Tazorli whorehouse.” He spoke in Skolian Flag, a language of his own people.He would never willingly use Highton, not if they tortured him for a hundred years.The youth’s eyes widened.He switched into Flag.“I’m not a Eubian, I swear it.” He spoke the Skolian much better than High-ton.“You are free now, in the territory of the Allied Worlds of Earth.We offer you protection.”Eldrin said nothing.The boy tried again.“My name is Mik Fresnel.I’m a volunteer with the Dawn Corps.We’re a group from Earth helping with rescue and relocation operations now that the war is over.”“Mik” looked so earnest, he could have fueled a spaceship on his sincerity.Eldrin saw their game now: convince him that he was free, that the fighting had ended, let him taste it, believe it, revel in it—and then send him back to interrogation.After another silence, Mik said, “It’s warmer in the embassy.” His lopsided smile would have been charming had it been genuine.“The dining room has some pretty good soup.”Eldrin tried not to imagine the soup.Cold was seeping into his body, weakening the emotional numbness he held around himself like a shield.His arms and wrists throbbed.He had been shackled during the trip he and Corbal had taken through space, or wherever, to reach this place.At least Corbal hadn’t ordered any other restraints beyond what basic security required.Strange that only Eldrin’s interrogators inflicted pain, never Corbal.Eldrin struggled to suppress his memories of what he had endured from the intelligence officers in ESComm, Eubian Space Command.He hoped the bastards rotted in hell.They could have questioned him without savagery.Humane methods existed, but they had chosen otherwise.He had expected even worse from Corbal Xir, a Highton lord high in the Aristo caste system.Corbal could have done whatever he wanted to Eldrin, yet he had held back.Had Eldrin been more gullible, he might have believed Corbal was showing compassion.But it was impossible.Rain continued to soak his clothes.His feet had become so cold he could barely feel his toes.Muscle tremors shook his body.“Please,” Mik coaxed.“We can help you.” For some reason he looked upset.“Let us help.”“Liar [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]