Good King Lyr: Aezthena Ship
He was on Barenin’s ship. Gods, an Aezthena ship.
Aezthena didn’t need much air. Or heat. But humans did—had Barenin thought of that? In all the details they’d planned, had Barenin missed the very important fact that he needed air and heat to stay alive?
Anais gasped, room spinning, ears ringing as he looked for something to hold onto.
Dammit, Barenin. Part of his mind railed at them—they couldn’t have missed a detail this huge—while the other part searched his narrowing vision for some controls, something to activate the environmental systems.
But he stood in the center of the oval-shaped room, which was empty expect for a single, waist-high pillar at one end and a low gray couch at the other. There were no standard ship consoles. There weren’t even any doors.
He grabbed at his throat, angling toward the pillar as his best bet.
Then the lights came up, air rushed in, and heat radiated around him, the atmosphere adjusting to a human presence.
Anais stumbled back to the couch and sat shaking, head in hands, drawing deep breaths.
“Damn it, Barenin!” he shouted, his throat raw. He flinched as the shout seemed swallowed by the room, leaving no acoustics, no echo.
He was on an Aezthena ship. This was, gods and stars above, an Aezthena ship.
Everything was soft-white. The ceiling sloped down to meet the walls and the floor sloped upward. There were no seams, no hard edges. No windows he could see. And yes, no doors. He was used to ships’ ambient system hums, but this ship was silent, a high-tech tomb.
Hairs raised all over his body. Barenin hadn’t warned him about the atmosphere on the ship, or lack of it. Had they just spent the last few hours planning with him, then sent him here to keep him out of the way? During the Council meeting, Barenin had given him detailed instructions on what to do once he’d reached their ship, but they hadn’t included any descriptions or mental images of the ship itself. Anais hadn’t realized it at the time, focused as he’d been on the bigger picture. On the intensity of their planning. He’d assumed that Aezthena ships had at least basic controls in common with human designs. But nothing here looked like a ship’s control room or bridge.
Had Barenin’s coin taken him to a holding cell? Was this their idea of keeping him safe? Or worse, a place where he couldn’t interfere?
Bile rushed up his throat. His part of the plan was go to the ship, input the correct navigational coordinates, and prime the weapons. His part in this plan was vital. He had felt that from Barenin. He’d felt their confidence in him.
He also knew Barenin would do anything to see this job done well.
Anais rubbed his face in his hands. His heart rate was too high, his body too jinky from adrenaline. He didn’t know the situation here—whatever Barenin had sent him into, he had to get his bearings.
Anais yelped and whirled.
Barenin stood behind him, dressed in white Aezthena robes, hands clasped before them.
“Barenin, gods, you should have told me there was no air—”
“You are seeing this recording because you activated my coin. Congratulations. I’ve only ever given that to a few people.” Their lips quirked in that small, almost-smile. And Anais had the jarring impression of them as distinctly masculine. Like Barenin’s bearing in their public appearances, or when they’d taken over his contract as king.
Anais ran a shaky hand through his hair. So this was a hologram? Did that mean this door-less room wasn’t a holding cell?
What are you playing at, Barenin?
“I will act as your interface with the ship,” the recording of Barenin continued. “The ship is a low-level intelligence and will do their best to accommodate your needs.” The ship-Barenin paused. “Please don’t destroy them. Now. How can I help you?”
Anais gripped the edge of the couch. Barenin included in their welcome message a plea not to destroy the ship? What the hell kind of company did they usually keep?
Wrong question. They were Barenin.
Had that first moment been a test? But then, why not warn him?
Anais shoved himself off the couch, steadied on wobbling legs. Whatever reasons Barenin—the real Barenin—had for wanting him off-balance, he still had a mission to carry out. At least he hoped he did.
But he couldn’t understand why they’d want him off-balance now, when everything was riding on what he did in the next few minutes. He checked his memory implant’s internal clock. Thirty-one minutes until the ship had to fire its weapons, while Barenin simultaneously triggered the modified implant at Edin’s generators to hide the planet. And the ship would be firing Kaireyeh weapons, the only way to make this look real. Like Denz Dayar had actually been destroyed.
Kaireyeh weapons banned on every human world. It was against the treaty with the humans for Barenin to even have them on board. Weapons that could cut through spacetime and be at their intended target before it should be possible, this close to a planet’s gravity well. Weapons that would tear the fabric of spacetime when detonated.
But then, that was the point. That was how they’d make a planet disappear, by hiding it in this tear of destruction.
And if they weren’t so, so careful, these weapons might shatter the illusion they were trying to create and actually destroy a world.
Anais’ shoulders tensed, his stomach tightening. “Ship?”
“Yes, go ahead,” the ship-Barenin said.
“Uh, I need you to go to specific coordinates—is there a place I can enter coordinates?” He turned around. “Is this the bridge? Can you take me to the bridge?”
“This is the bridge,” the ship-Barenin said calmly.
The white pillar lit with a pale blue light. Holo displays fanned out from it, colorful interfaces in human Aijani standard language.
Anais’ anger flared. Later, he told himself. He’d yell at Barenin for not telling him all this later.
“Yeah, that will work.” He strode toward the holos. They looked too colorful, out of place in this pristine Aezthena world. Did Barenin even need these displays to control their ship?
A navigation display flashed he approached, anticipating his needs.
Was the ship reading his mind?
No, he’d just told the hologram he needed a nav interface. Anais tried to let his shoulders relax. Tried to focus on the job at hand. He input the coordinates Barenin had given him, heading the ship toward a high orbit around the planet. “Cloak the ship to all frequencies.”
“Ship is already cloaked,” the ship-Barenin said.
“All right,” Anais said under his breath, and paused to look over the other readouts. It was a dizzying array of information, everything from orbital trajectories to nearby Kaireyeh super-threads to planetary local weather reports.
Anais checked his internal clock again. Barenin should have finished with their spouse and would be at Edin’s generators, building the planet-hiding tech now. Anais’ own timing was on-track, despite the few minutes wasted in the shock of coming on board.
Okay. Okay, he was okay.
He continued down the list of commands Barenin had given him.
“Turn active threat watch to passive,” Anais said. That, Barenin had explained, would help conceal the ship’s movements from any Aezthena who might be in the system. Another of those important jobs it would have been nice to have more concentration for.
“Threat watch is now passive,” the ship-Barenin said.
“Prepare a level-five weapons discharge to these coordinates, in this sequence.” He pulled up the exact memory of Barenin’s words in his memory implant, preparing to read them off.
“You do not have the authorization to use this ship’s weapons systems—”
“The hell I don’t.” Anais gritted his teeth and pulled up another memory Barenin had given him directly. He rattled off the long, half-nonsensical override—complete with mental images and thought impressions.
There was a slight pause, while Anais’ heart pounded too loudly in the ship’s silence and he wondered if he’d gotten the mental nuances right. And wondered just how deeply the ship was scanning his thoughts, if it could pick up the surface thoughts that were part of the override.
Gods, there had not been enough time to fully think this through. To consider what it meant that another person—or thing? What exactly did low-level intelligence mean to an Aezthena?—would be in his head. Was already in his head.
“Ha.” The holo display shifted to make room for the weapons screen, and Anais began to fill in the fields as Barenin had specified.
Later—he’d think about the ramifications later. So much he had to think about later.
He’d known Aezthena mentally interfaced with their ships, and he had the feeling Barenin could have done all this themself from the ground, if they hadn’t needed all their concentration to work with the Yfeni generators. They’d also wanted to minimize the chance of their discovery by the Aezthena. And they’d been concerned the Yfeni energy might interfere with their ability to interface with the ship.
Anais hoped not. Gods and stars above, he hoped not. He was here to get the ship into position, make sure it wasn’t found before it could carry out its mission, and prime the Kaireyeh missiles for firing. But Barenin, on the ground, had to give the mental command to fire. Anais might have the countdown, but only Barenin would know the timing to the nanosecond. And they needed that precision to make this work. Too late, and an Aezthena observer would see the planet disappear before the explosion. Too early, and…well. No more Denz Dayar, in phase or not.
“Ship,” he said, his voice smaller than he’d have liked. “Ship, call Barenin Lyr. Tell me when they respond.”
Another infinite pause. “Barenin Lyr is not responding.”
“Shit.” Anais pounded his fist against his leg. “Shit!”
He had his instructions on what to do if Barenin couldn’t reach the ship. That, more than anything else, was why he was here. Program the sequence into the ship’s computer. Set the computer to auto-calculate timing as best it could. And pray. To all that was holy in the universe, pray.
“Set the firing sequence,” he said, staring at the weapons display.
“Firing sequence set,” the ship-Barenin said. “Would you like me to auto-calculate—”
“Very well. Auto-calculation engaged.” The ship-Barenin added, mildly, “There is an intruder on board this ship.”
Anais stiffened and turned. “Do you mean me—”
His words died when he saw Sela standing behind him, calm and enigmatic.
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