by Leanna Renee Hieber
Chief Counsel Ariadne Corinth has just found out her long-time lover, the powerfully gifted Chief Counsel Kristov Haydn, has died. Newly evolved psychically gifted humans have been sent by the Homeworld on a space mission aboard two distinct "Nests".
Relationships between the Light Nest and the Dark Nest have faltered and Ariadne is sure there's something insidious behind it. In a matter of hours, Ariadne must find out what really happened to Kristov, unite her people to discover vast new powers the Homeworld denied them, or else submit to genocide.
Copyright © 2008 Leanna Renee Hieber
All rights reserved — a Crescent Moon Press publication
Grief was like a bomb. The Courier’s words hit Ariadne Corinth’s body like shards of shrapnel.
Everyone on the command deck jumped and whirled to face the source of the outburst. Such disruptions never happened on the Light Nest command deck. Or anywhere else on the Light Nest. There was only calm, peaceful control. Chief Counsel Ariadne Corinth fought to maintain her wits.
The Dark Nest Courier relaying the bad news was the only one who didn’t seem shocked by Ariadne’s outcry. Fighting to control the expression on her face while raising her mental shields, Ariadne wasn’t capable of stilling her shaking hands. “There must be a mistake,” she murmured.
“He can’t be dead.” “Regretfully he is, Madam Counsel. In the event of his death, I was instructed to bring the news to you in person.” A flicker of fascination, or perhaps disgust, passed across the Courier’s thin face. “Surprising, though. I didn’t know the two of you were acquainted.”
“Don’t overstep your bounds, Courier. It is none of your business what friendships might remain between the Nests.” Ariadne looked up and noted, uncomfortably, that her captain was staring at her with curious intent.
“One last item, Madam Counsel, and I’ll gladly take my leave,” the Courier added. “On our ship, there remains an object Chief Counsel Haydn left to you in his will. Would you come pick it up yourself or-”
Ariadne lifted her hand, pretending to be suddenly fascinated by the air pressure meters on the deck console nearest her. She couldn’t let anyone, from either Nest, see her in tears. This would have been unprecedented. The captain could have her disciplined. But she knew just what that object was and she couldn’t bear to think of it.
“Have it delivered to my quarters by Dark Nest Courier,” she stated, trying to mask her breathless tone as nonchalance.
“Yes, Chief Counsel Corinth .”
The petite, spiky silver-haired Courier saluted. Ariadne nodded, watching as the woman turned crisply and held up her hand to a pearlescent panel, signaling the flight deck door to slide aside. She swished out, her plain black robes rustling behind her until she vanished. The Courier took her intensity with her and the entire atmosphere of the Light Nest deck lost weight, returning to its cool, neutral temperature. With one exception: the temperature deep within Ariadne’s carefully built fortress. Down there, it was a dangerous, fiery degree.
She felt the captain’s gaze on her and knew he was about to speak before he did. “Chief Counsel Corinth, I presume there’s been another death on the Dark Nest.” His words were not a question and his typically indifferent tone had never aggravated her more.
Turning to address him, she steeled herself. The captain was sitting casually at the command post, his elaborate white robes splayed out like the feathers of the albino peacocks that pecked and preened on the Homeworld’s governmental capital grounds. The idea that he had been courting her and that she had accepted his proposal was suddenly ridiculous. She wanted to laugh. Or yell. And scandalize the whole deck. Instead, she replied to his disinterested comment.
“Yes, unfortunately, there has been another loss aboard our sister ship,” she said, horrified by her words and yet impressed by her flat, businesslike tone. Captain Saren raised an eyebrow. The term “sister ship” hadn’t been used for some time. Ariadne thought that was a shame.
“From your surprising outburst, I assume it would be your former acquaintance, Counsel Haydn?”
Ariadne could feel the deck’s resulting wave of surprise, amusement and disapproval ripple through her perception-field. Few aboard the Light Nest knew of any connection with the Dark Nest’s Chief Counsel, so this was news to all. Though she felt the initial wave, everyone soon controlled themselves back to neutral. A heart-numbing neutral.
“Yes, Captain, Chief Counsel Haydn has been lost,” she replied, careful not to sound too sharp as she corrected Haydn’s rank.
“Pity. They’re dropping like flies. I wonder what has gotten into all of them. They’ve always been overdramatic, but I didn’t assume them murderers. It does do wonders for our ship’s energy levels, though, doesn’t it?”
Behind her back she balled handfuls of her robe into tight fists. Perhaps Saren knew how hurtful he was acting. He could be so patronizing when it came to the Dark Nest.
“Energy must remain in proportion, Captain Saren. We mustn’t get thrown off balance. Levity is dangerous against death.”
“Always the counselor, wise Ariadne. Pardon my insensitivity while you’re surely grieving at the news.”
“I do not like death, sir, no matter whom.”
“Particularly not Chief Counsel Hadyn, I can imagine.”
He was testing her. In front of the entire command deck. She gently raised one eyebrow.
“I have no undue attachment, sir. And as the word ‘murder’ was not spoken I caution you not make assumptions about the Dark Nest, Captain. Keep in mind that there was a time, not long ago, when our two Nests moved freely. Are we all now denying the Dark Nestlings we’ve known?”
Searching the emotions of the deck, there was no stirring of recollection, care, or consideration. No one seemed phased by her question. Relations had grown worse than she had thought. She had to get out.
Ariadne stiffened. “If you’ll pardon me, Captain, I must inform a mutual friend of the Chief Counsel’s passing.”
She turned before the captain could say or intuit anything else, pressed her hand to the shimmering panel and the door to the flight deck swished open and shut behind her.
She just had to keep her mind closed. Just until her quarters. Just a few corridors….