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Vila knows she shouldn't. The Code forbids it. Lustful acts lead us away from the Great Mother, away from the Transcendent Unity.

And yet - feeling invigorated by the warm buzz of a few cups of kala - Vila realizes that sometimes one has to see the big picture. And so, as the slender silver-haired woman puts a finger between Vila's legs, Vila understands that in the great scheme of things, perhaps this union was meant to be. And as the older woman kisses her gently but fiercely, and Vila feels her back arch, she knows that she is destined to draw this beautiful, innocent woman - what did she say her name was? - into the sacred sisterhood.

As if reading her thoughts, the other woman whispers in her ear, "Tell me about your friends, dear."

"Oh, you'd like them!" Vila begins, and then hesitates, feeling a twinge of apprehension.

"I'm sure they're very pretty," the stranger prompts. And now that it's been mentioned, Vila realizes that several of the women in the Sisterhood are quite attractive; she's thinking of Wakha, and Eristhi, and especially the leader of the local cell, Lubindi - now she's a hot one, with that little mole just above her left breast and those amazing legs. Not that Vila spends much time thinking about those sorts of things; that would be sinful.

The images of Wakha, Eristhi, and Lubindi float in Vila's mind. The stranger strokes her, teases her. Stops.

Vila gasps.

"I'd like to meet them."

Now Vila understands that she's being tested. She must not, under any circumstances, mention the meetings of the 91 members of the local sisterhood every fortnight in Room 731 of the abandoned research complex. In fact, it would be better not to think about those meetings at all. Security breaches are not taken lightly by the Sisterhood. Like that young girl not long ago; she had to be dealt with. Regrettable, but necessary.

"Tell me about the girl."

The stranger's voice is suddenly changed; it's cool and firm and deadly. Vila is just about to come, but the stranger's finger stops in mid-stroke.

Vila's face is now pure desperation. Looking into her lover's steady gaze, she knows better than to say "What girl?"

Vila can barely speak at all; she begs in a wordless whimper. Her sexual craving is unbearable; she'd reach down and pleasure herself now, if her arms weren't pinned behind her back. The stranger is calm, authoritative, and consummately in control; the kind of woman, Vila randomly thinks, who would look good in a uniform.

"P-p-please ... " Vila gasps. "Could you take these off?" The handcuffs aren't fun anymore, and they're feeling awfully tight.

"I'll take 'em off when I'm ready," the stranger says, getting out of the bed and turning her back to Vila. "Tell you what, lady, I'd start talking now if I were you." The stranger reaches into the duffel bag she's brought with her, and starts putting on a fresh set of clothes. Oddly, from the back, it does look like some kind of uniform.

Vila doesn't like the way things are going now, not at all. But she doesn't see any way out, so she just answers the question, hoping it will make something better. "Taswa," she says numbly, "the girl's name was Taswa. ... " She draws a deep breath as the stranger buttons her shirt.

"Hey," Vila says, now beginning to panic, "you're not going to leave me here, are you? What's your name, anyway?"

"Garris," the Chief says, "the name's Garris. And you're under arrest."
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The Gilkesh are star-gazers by nature, and from their earliest history have had an unslakeable thirst for the knowledge of that which lies beyond. The sciences were regarded as sacred doors to the mystical, and schools of contemplation arose to train the mind so that it is not overwhelmed by the mysteries of the Universe. These schools were the first Temples.

Every Gilkesh science student has heard of the great mathematician Zedkis, who pioneered the theory of infinity and went quite mad; or Morva, the natural philosopher who proved the existence of many universes - the foundation of hyperspace travel - and died by her own hand.

But other kinds of knowledge have their own dangers ...


In the Internal Security office of the colony on Planet 138, Chief Garris hasn't shown up for work for a couple of days. Her second-in-command, Inspector Shihar, knows her boss well enough not to ask any questions. Whatever it is, she figures she'll find out soon enough. She suspects it has something to do with that book they're not supposed to talk about.


Alone with her memories under the stars, Queen Amira wonders how it all went so wrong. Her ecstatic embraces with her young assistant Joli, now turned from a shining hope to a guilty memory - one she must forever conceal from her mate Kathris. Never again can she let Kathris awaken her passion; she cannot risk letting down her mental defenses, for fear of what the other Queen might discover about her past.

Life was so much better, so much sweeter, when she was young. And again her thoughts return to her native land of Ullari, and to her first lover, Terimi.

And to Terimi's last words ...
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[Click here for the story so far.]

The Book of Q'ormis was not banned in the realms of Oroven.  In Ullari to the south, however, it was banned. 

Following the exposure of the Singularity cult in the capital city of Ullari, and the subsequent suicides of hundreds of its members and of its founder Q'ormis, the Queen of Ullari and its parliamentary government proscribed Singularity and its teachings in perpetuity.  Within two or three generations, all traces of the cult's existence had been expunged from official records and histories.  The few highly-placed officials who knew the truth believed that they had eradicated the threat.

In Oroven to the north, the situation was different.  Because Singularity had not grown on their own soil, the queens, princesses, and ministers of that realm saw no urgent need to conceal its existence.  So if a scholar wished to learn the little that was known about Q'ormis and her followers, she would have to travel to the libraries of Oroven, thousands of miles from the lands where the events actually took place.

The leaders of Ullari believed they had eliminated the threat from their land, while the leaders of Oroven imagined that it was never present in theirs.  Both were wrong.

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Joli steps out of the elevator and onto the terrace, high on some remote section of the Palace Compound. Queen Amira is waiting for her, leaning against the ornamented iron railing. She looks different, somehow, this time - or maybe she just looks different to Joli.

Amira gives Joli a playful, flirtatious look - inviting the young adviser to make the first move, playing the game, weaving the great fantasy that both of them have been living. The fantasy that she, Queen Amira, isn't one of the two most powerful women on the planet; the fantasy that in some romantic and magical way, the two of them are truly equals.

The Queen's gown is light violet with a bright red trim that seems to glow in the starlight. Its low neckline draws Joli's gaze down to Amira's gentle curves. Amira's face is shadowless in the starry night.

She's irresistible - and yet, Joli can resist. Something has changed. Joli realizes, with a finality that is both liberating and heartbreaking, that the spell is broken. Suddenly she feels older than Amira.

And why does Joli think of her mother now - Lhior, her birthmother, the woman who gave her life, and who was taken from her when Joli was still a child? Growing up, Joli watched her widowed bondmother age, the time and grief deepening the lines in Khalfid's face. But Lhior - Lhior was the mother who would never age.

But I'm getting older, Joli thinks.

And she thinks: I'm not looking for my mother anymore.

She takes a step forward, no longer self-conscious about her own clothing or anything else. Absent-mindedly she runs the fingers of one hand along the polished brass rings of the giant armillary sphere that sits in the center of the terrace. The antique device shows the positions of all fourteen planets known to the ancients, its mechanism kept working with centuries of tender care by the royal astronomers.

The universe moves on, Joli thinks, and we move with it. It doesn't take an astrophysicist to understand that much. Thinking now of her friend Dess, Joli remembers something Dess once told her: "You change the future at every moment, with every choice you make in life."

There's a rustling of wings above, as a crow perches on one of the upper rings of the armillary sphere. Joli takes a step towards Queen Amira and gives a formal curtsy.

"Your Majesty," she begins, "there is something I must tell you."


2007-08-17 08:56
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The Queen's Courtesan

Something's been wrong for a long time. Khalfid remembers their lovemaking in the early years, strong and passionate. Even after Joli arrived, with Lhior having to wake up at all hours of dayphase to feed her, they'd found time.

But gradually Lhior had become distant and withdrawn. She lost interest in sex, and began to pull away when Khalfid would embrace her. Eventually she would not allow her wife to even touch her. And there were other odd things, too: Lhior became more and more preoccupied with the idea of motherhood - sometimes giving rambling monologues about the angel Eve, and the Great Mother - and less and less interested in mothering the child she herself had birthed. (As Joli grew older, it would be Khalfid's responsibility to take care of her training and education, and to prepare her to enter the universe as an adult - the same tasks that would fall to Lhior when Khalfid bore a birthdaughter of her own. But Khalfid was beginning to wonder whether that would ever happen - and whether she really wanted to entrust a child of her own womb to Lhior.)

And every so often, she'd notice Lhior reading from that book ... the book that had mysteriously appeared one day, and that would, just as mysteriously, disappear.

They call it dayphase, because it's the period when people usually sleep. There's no real day/night cycle on Planet 138; the distant stars that are the planet's "suns" rise and sets every thirty days or so, but most of the colony's population live underground. So nightphase and dayphase are matters of convention, but they do matter.

Lhior has just zipped little Joli into her sleeping pouch, after turning on the bright lamp in her room for a few minutes to make her drowsy and help her sleep. Now she walks into the bedroom to have that talk with Khalfid - the talk she's been dreading, and the talk she knows she must have.

Khalfid is lying on her side of the bed, facing outward. (As adults, they have enough bodyweight to sleep comfortably in regular beds, even in Planet 138's low gravity.) Lhior reaches across and touches Khalfid's shoulder, then strokes the sleeve of her daygown.

Khalfid meets Lhior's eyes, and, without a word - for the first time in much too long - they embrace.

explicit )
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The Queen's Courtesan


With the last of the bodies buried, the Chief Priestess site alone in the library of the temple.

The plague had swept through the town first. The townsfolk had watched their mothers, daughters, wives, and sisters die, and had begged the priestesses - women of learning, surely - for help. But none of the herbs and extracts in the old scrolls offered any protection; so the people had turned to the traveling witches, foolish old women with no more learning than a stone has, who made extravagant promises and offered worthless charms. And when the charms failed and the people still died, the witches were stoned or burned at the stake.

It was the priestesses' honesty - the courage to say "We can do nothing" - that had spared them that fate; a promise must be made to be betrayed. (Though perhaps, given just a little more time, the townspeople would have turned against them as well.) And most likely it was their ritual purity practices - the strict dietary codes, the ritual washing three times a night, and the code of celibacy that required each priestess to sleep in her own cell - that had spared the priestesses from the plague. For a time.

But the best dam cannot hold back a flood forever, and finally - with the surviving villagers now getting back to the business of living - the plague struck the temple, and struck it hard. The chanting and the meditations had stopped long ago. After that, there had been only the screaming and the moaning and the stepping over the bodies of the dead to comfort the dying.

In the end, the plague had taken three priestesses of every five. The Chief Priestess wonders if it is a punishment from the Universal Life Force that she has been allowed to live.

It's late. Zir, the sun, is not yet high in the sky, but already it's getting hot. Yet the heat and the sunlight are not making her drowsy. A wind blows in from the Eastern Desert, blowing dust and (so they say) madness through the doors and windows of the temple. The Chief Priestess breathes deep.

Everything in the Universe, she knows, goes in cycles. The moons, the planets, the seasons. And the lives of mortals too. She can still feel the scars on her wrists and ankles from the years she spent in Queen Derenil's prison. Hard years, those. But look how it had all ended: the Southern Realm in revolt, and Queen Derenil's head on a pike outside of a looted palace. Cycles, cycles.

And now this. Is it my turn to be Queen Derenil? she wonders fleetingly, and rejects the thought. No, there is a reason for everything, and there's a reason for this. She must have been spared alive for a reason; perhaps, to bear witness.

She turns her attention back to the ancient texts before her - the Books of the Oracles, the Books of the Sages, and the Cypher. Always that impenetrable mystery, the Cypher.

In the beginning dwells the end,
and in the end dwells the beginning.

And in the beginning dwells ... well, that's the idea, she thinks. Even now.

Even now, the townsfolk are beginning to forget. To forget the passion of the revolution and the horror of the plague. They lose themselves in decadent music and immoral dancing and bad hairstyles; they care nothing for what's real and true and eternal.

Even now, the Temple Orders are decaying. It began long before the plague, of course. People have forgotten the Great Way. There is too much faith in the wrong things: angels and saints and magic charms. We're scarcely better than those witches, she thinks, or the ancient pagans who worshiped pantheons of goddesses.

What's needed is a purification, and a return to the source. A return to the Universal Mother. It could take generations, it could take centuries. But now, as the vision of a future world grows in her mind - a world redeemed and purified - she finds the will to move forward.

She puts pen to paper and begins to write.

From one source emerge
all created things,
And to their source they must return
at the end of nights ...

Her purpose is clear as the vision unfolds upon her.

Q'ormis is forty-one years old; in Gilkesh terms, that's not even middle age.
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The Queen's Courtesan

A world is a big place. On some parts of Darkhaven, the changes brought about a complete upheaval; but in most of the settled parts of the planet, they were scarcely noticed.

For the community of the Sunset Temple, located in a mountain area far from any government or military facility, it meant little more than lowering the Kathrite flag and raising a new one, and filling out a new set of paperwork for the new government. Study, meditation, and practice would continue more or less as they had since the temple was founded.

In one of the many hexagonal cells of the temple's library, two new priestesses sit hunched over a book. They passed through the novitiate together and they're inseparable, though it's hard to imagine a more unlikely pair. The younger one is tall, elegant, poised, and exquisitely beautiful. The Chief Priestess would like to sit her in the back during meditation so she won't distract the others, but she can't because the young woman is constantly winning scholarship honors and so must be seated in the front. But it's in community service and compassionate work that she really shines, volunteering at the clinic in town well in excess of her required hours, and still finding time to take on extra duties in the temple.

The other woman is only older by a few years, but the difference in their ages appears greater than it is. She is lean and wiry but could not be called graceful. She makes up in dogged determination what she lacks in ... well, just about everything else.

Now they're studying a difficult passage from one of the Books of the Oracles.

"Listen to your heart," the beautiful one is saying. "Let it speak to you. It's like the riddle we used in meditation tonight - 'What is the speed of sound in a vacuum?' It's not meant to be understood rationally."

Their eyes meet for a moment.

"So, how are you two doing in there?" It's the Chief Priestess, whose timing is impeccable, standing by the doorway.

"Very well, ma'am," the younger woman says, rising to her feet. "Atubis is mastering the material admirably."

"Excellent," the Chief Priestess says, "excellent. Keep up the good work, Sestris."
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The Queen's Courtesan


She turns the pages of the printbook, gazes at the pictures, runs her fingers over the signatures. Some of the names are written in delicate, flowing characters ... those women were always the toughest ones.

There they are, in words and pictures: together for the last time. Another class completing the brutal training for the elite Shadow Regiment, Queen Kathris’ secret weapon against pirates and raiders.

En-Qhoi remembers the ceremony at the remote post of Kor Ethrim, the Shadow Regiment’s main training camp and headquarters on the planet Darkhaven. Most of the graduates had all they could do to stand upright, still fatigued and sore from endless marches and combat drills. But they stood, and stood proudly. From there, the newly inducted warriors – some barely more than girls – would be transported to critical outposts and colonies in the Kathrite domain. For En-Qhoi, herself a native of Darkhaven, it would be the beginning of several years of service in the defense of her own homeworld – years that are now about to end.

The faces and the names. The entry under her own name in the yearbook records that her training platoon voted her “most likely to bring a gun to a knife fight.” Which is ironic, because she’s always preferred knives.

En-Qhoi stands at relaxed attention in front of Captain Daria’s desk. She knows the news is going to be bad; the only thing left to her imagination is how bad. And it seems like an eternity as she waits for the CO to put her out of her misery.

“Generally, you know,” the captain begins abruptly, as if resuming a train of thought broken off a moment ago, “you’ve got a pretty good record with aliens. That joint patrol with the Errioi, and the police action out in Fao space ... very professional, very solid.” She pauses uncomfortable. “And with the Humans, too, usually. It’s just that this last incident ... well, I think we all agree that it was an understandable over-reaction on your part. But it was still an over-reaction.”

En-Qhoi knows what’s coming next. Over-reaction is one of the gravest sins in the world of Special Security; there’s no place for hotheads in outfits like the Shadow Regiment. She knows she’s going to be saying goodbye to her Shadow crest and hello to a career behind a computer.  If she's lucky.

The captain goes on. “So I think it’s a good time to give you a little change of pace. At least until this, um, unfortunate occurrence is forgotten.”

Dimly, En-Qhoi wonders if this “change of pace” will involve making big rocks into little rocks.

Suddenly, as if it had been teleported there without warning, a document on the captain’s desk seems to capture her gaze. “Now we’re in luck, because there’s something coming up that I think will be just the thing. We’ve been tasked with this mission by the Queen herself. Ever heard of Voha?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good, because if you had, I’d have to shoot you. Just kidding.” The CO allows herself a narrow smile. “It’s a planet in an extremely remote system in Sector Nine. Its existence isn’t a secret, exactly, but it falls in the category of ‘things we don’t talk much about’. Officially it’s classed as ‘uninhabited’. That’s technically true because there’s nothing we recognize as organic life there. But ...”

En-Qhoi’s mood meter has swung from “impending doom” to “dumbfounded”. It’s now inching back towards “impending doom”, but on a much bigger scale.

En-Qhoi has been wondering if anybody upstairs is concerned about the Amirite scouts that have been appearing in Darkhaven’s system lately. Now it appears the answer is no – at least if Kathris thinks the number one priority is some obscure planetary system nobody’s heard of. En-Qhoi has always admired the Queen, and she feels like a traitor for questioning her judgment; but with the Shadow Regiment’s resources as limited as they are, this makes no sense at all.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Daria says, accurately. “I’ve been made aware of your concerns about the Amirites’ incursions into this planetary system. And to be honest with you – this is just between us – I tend to agree with you. But they see things differently back on Shakti. There’s even talk of negotiations with the Amirites ... possible joint control over some of the colonies.”

Like this one? En-Qhoi wants to ask. But she already knows the answer.

“Listen, En-Qhoi. I don’t pretend to know what they’re thinking back on the Homeworld. Sometimes I think the Supreme Council are just a bunch of crazy old ladies. But Queen Kathris – and I know you know this – she’s no fool. So if she thinks this mission to Voha is important, well, I’d take it if I were you. Here’s the data file with all the mission details – I don’t even know what’s in it. But I’m tasking you with the Voha mission, and I expect you to carry it out.”

Captain Daria, who normally looks more like a librarian than a warrior, now gets that steely glint in her eyes that reminds En-Qhoi why the CO’s nickname is “Captain Death”.

“Do it for Queen Kathris.”

“Yes, ma’am.” En-Qhoi feels a chill and a shudder as the full weight of this hits home, and she takes the data crystal from the commader’s hand with trembling fingers.

“Oh, and one other thing.”


“Try not to rip anybody’s arm off this time, okay?”

“I’ll do my best, ma’am.”
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The Queen's Courtesan.

Chapter 32:  Darkhaven.

The system sits in the middle of a dust cloud, and its star is hard to locate from a distance.  The planet lives up to its name (Morg-ye-Kur in the Gilkesh language) because, though the dayside is as bright as that of Shakti, its night sky is unusually poor in stars.  Generations ago, space explorers from the Northern Realm – then ruled by one of Kathris’ grandmothers, Queen Turem – discovered it almost by accident, and immediately knew its strategic value, as did Queen Kathris when she acceeded to the Northern throne.  She saw Darkhaven as a vital bulwark against the loose coalition of rival tribes from the Southern Realm, now gathering power under a petty chieftain named Amira.


Few of the Kathrite warriors who defended the outpost from pirates expected a direct attack from the Amirites.  Those who did, generally supposed the Amirites weak (“undisciplined romantics” was the common, contemptuous term among the Kathrite fighters) and did not take the threat seriously.


One young Kathrite warrior grasped the folly of underestimating the enemy.  Her name was En-Qhoi.

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The Queen's Courtesan:  Our story so far.

Chapter 31:  They will not remember you.

If you go there now, you will see them.

Travel back in time, to the place you can't get past; come in at a low orbit around this distant world.

Maybe you've been here before.  You've watched their security ships rise to escort you, silver dots against the big night, advancing slowly towards you like travelers across an ancient valley.

They will not remember you.  You'll play your part like an actor and you will know your lines well.  For them, it will be the first time.  Always the first time.  You will introduce yourself as a visitor from their future - perhaps you are of another race, perhaps one of their own.

They will not welcome you.  They will treat you with suspicion, as they would any alien.  They're not used to seeing aliens.  They want to know what you can offer their settlement.  You must bring beads and trinkets:  a fusion reactor, a hyperspace drive.

They will not love you.  A visitor from the future does not bring them any hope, because it is their past they've lost:  their homeworld, their families. 

They will not remember you.  After you have gone, returned to your universe and its comforts, they will remain behind.  They don't want your world.  They will keep your treasures and your technology.  But they'll forget your face and your name.

You do not belong to Darkhaven.

September 2017

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