rosemary edghill: Darktraders



Darktraders [?]
by eluki bes shahar
DAW Books (1992)
ISBN: 0-88677-507-8

Chapter 1: In A Hellflower Garden of Bright Images

I was minding my own business doing what was more or less any Gentry-legger's stock in trade -- delivering a kick to a client. Only the kick was my buddy the live political hotrock Tiggy Stardust, hellflower prince, and the client not only didn't know he'd ordered the delivery, he might blow both of us wayaway when he got it.

"I do not like this, Kore."

"Is this supposed to surprise me, bai?"

I hadn't told Tiggy that. Tiggy was sure his da would protect both of us -- but then, how much did you know about life when you was fourteen?

"It is demeaning."

"If you'd left the damn knife in the ship you wouldn't have this problem."

"It is not a 'knife'. It is my arthame."

It was my idea he could get to be fifteen with a little help. My name is Butterflies-are-free Peace Sincere and I'm a moron.


We'd hitched a ride here on a pirate ship hight Woebegone on account of a promise her captain Eloi Flashheart had made to Yours Truly in the not-too-distant past. But Eloi's charity stopped at the spaceport gates, and now Tiggy and me was on our own. In beautiful theory it wouldn't be for long. Kennor Starbringer was here to open the new Civil Year from the Ramasarid Palace of Justice in Low Mikasa. Kennor Starbringer was Tiggy's da, the man who wanted Tiggy back.

I hoped.

"Soon we will be with my father once more. His vengeance on the Mikasaport Authorities will be terrible. How dare they use a servant of the Gentle People thus? Is not my word sufficient bond?"

"I guess some people just got attitude problems, bai."

It's like this. A long time ago -- when I still had a partner, a ship, and a future -- I went and did the dumbest thing in a life career of doing dumb things and rescued a hellflower from some roaring boys in a Free Port. Only the hellflower turned out to be the Honorable Puer Walks-by-Night Kennor's-son Starbringer Amrath Valijon of Chernbereth-Molkath, Third Person of House Starborn -- that's Tiggy Stardust for short -- son of Kennor Starbringer the well-known and very truly sought after Second Person of House Starbringer and Prexy of the Azarine Coalition and the roaring boys had been set on to kill him.

And the only thing I knew about the killers for sure was that they had to be somebody what'd been with Tiggy on the alMayne consular ship Pledge Of Honor when she was orbiting a little place called Wanderweb. And that left room for a lot of rude surprises.

"It is not right."

"Bai, you going to tell me right's got something to do with the way the universe is run?"

And if I didn't take Tiggy back to them anyway -- House Starborn in general, Daddy Starbringer in particular -- Tiggy was going to die of a bad case of hellflower honor.

"Perhaps not among the chaudatu, Kore. But my honor cries out for vengeance!"

"Je, well, tell it to keep its voice down. If the proctors tap us you going to be honorable in the morgue."

You see our boy Tiggy -- which is to say Valijon Starbringer of alMayne -- is a hellflower, and hellflowers ain't like real people. What you got to know about hellflowers, first bang out of the box, is that they're crazy. What I found out about them, back when I had free time and a partner I could trust, was that hellflowers -- which is flashcant for our galactic brothers the alMayne -- is just this side of an Interdicted Culture. They'd be deliriously happy to be dictys, too, except for the little fact that their home world isn't anywheres near the Tahelangone Sector and their home delight in life is to hunt and kill Old Fed Libraries, of which nobody but Tiggy and me has seen zip for the last millennium. So they spend the part of their time that isn't spent hiring out as mercenaries making everyone else in the Empire real, real nervous on account of two things.

"Soon we will be with my father, Kore."

They're the best at what they do, which is killing.

"And his vengeance will be terrible. Je. I heard you the last time."

And you can never figure out when they're going to do it, on account of hellflower honor.

"I would even have challenged them honorably for the right to pass, but the tongueless ones would not duel."

"Je. Magnanimous."

But in about a hour-fifty, tops, this was not going to be my problem. Kennor Starbringer was at the Ramasarid Palace of Justice, and me and Tiggy was going there.

"I do not like this, Kore."


Low Mikasa Spaceport was the biggest thing I'd ever seen in my life, and it wasn't even the biggest thing in earshot. All you had to do was look up and there was High Mikasa hanging overhead, looking ripe and ready to fall with all kinds Imperial topgallants, Company bigriggers, and other stuff in all stages of built hanging around it. The Mikasarin Corporation holds the patents used for most of the shipbuilding done in the Empire and High Mikasa builds them. You use Mikasarin technology or you don't fly.

I looked around. Tiggy was right behind me. He had not been a happy hellflower since we came through Debarkation Control. Hellflowers does not go anywheres without their Knife. Period.

I hadn't even bothered to try getting my blasters through -- Low Mikasa being capital of the Mikasarin Directorate, it's rife with all the bennies of civilization like a weapons policy that boils down to "don't even try". But Tiggy-bai'd been sure they'd let his arthame through, and they had. Sort of. "Cultural empowerer and object of spiritual focus" they called x-centimeters of ferrous inert-blade. And then they glued it into its sheath.

I hadn't stopped hearing about it since.

"Soon we will be with my father, Kore," Tiggy said for only the thirtieth or so time since breakfast. Usually he wasn't a chatterer, and all of a sudden I realized what was different now.

Soon he'd be with his father.

And he wasn't any more certain of what Kennor'd do than I was.


The Ramasarid Palace of Justice is this big ornate ceremonial thing in the Low Mikasa Civic Center that looks like a Imperial starshaker crashed into a fancy dessert. The walkway we was on dropped us the other side of the plaza where we could of got a good look at it except for all the people in the way. The last time I'd seen so many bodies in one place there'd been a riot going on.

Tiggy and me fit right in, so nobody gave us any more look than Tiggy's hellflowerishness accounted for. We worked our way up to the front. It was just a good thing wasn't neither of us was carrying anything worth stealing; priggers must be having a field day here.

"Kore," Tiggy said in my ear, "the chaudatu lied. He said it was not lawful for the people to carry weapons here, and he lied."

"T'hell he did, 'flower. S'matter, somebody try to clout your knife?"

"No, but that man is armed, and thus the port chaudatu lied."

I tried to look around and see where Tiggy was looking, but we was both jammed in tighter than furs on a Riis run. I couldn't see anything.


"Back there, and--"

About then they let the palace doors open and everybody started shoving.


Valijon's Diary:

I am a servant of the Gentle People, whom the chaudatu call alMayne and hellflower.

I am the Honorable Puer Walks-by-Night Kennor's-son Starbringer Amrath Valijon of Chernbereth-Molkath, born within the walls of the Gentle People, Third of my House, whose tradition is service, even among the chaudatu without souls, and the Kore San'Cyr thinks that I am mad.

It is only meet that the chaudatu think the Gentle People mad, for thus they do not envy us and that is a kindness to them, but the Kore is not chaudatu. She has hunted the Machine as the chaudatu dare not. She has taken my honor into her own mouth and offered to die for me. She has shed her blood in my defense and made herself naked to my enemies.

Are these the acts of a chaudatu? No one among the Gentle People will say so.

And yet she says that I am mad. Perhaps -- only perhaps -- this is humor, a custom of the chaudatu that the Gentle People understand as little as the chaudatu understand honor.

But if she who was and is no longer chaudatu may understand honor, perhaps I who am her servites must understand humor.

I will consider this.

The Kore also thinks -- she does not say this -- that I am stupid, and I am no more stupid than mad. Fools do not live to become people upon my homeworld, and I have been a Person for six gathers of the Homeland seasons.

She thinks I do not know how it was that I was abandoned at the place she found me. She thinks, like the chaudatu, that the Gentle People know nothing of treachery -- yet did we not learn it from her kind, and learn to despise it? Were we not betrayed again and again by chaudatu in the service of the Machine until to know chaudatu is not to trust?

The Gentle People understand betrayal. The less-than-human betray. The price of humanity is eternal vigilance. Many are born to seem human who are not.

And many who were once human cease to be.

I pray that I am still human, but I fear. My father foretold me that to go among the soulless hellspawn was a hazard to my arthame -- and though all my father's words are truth, still I did not understand. Now I do. I have been among the chaudatu and seen abomination. The chaudatu leaders betray their people and open their hearts to the Machine. The Kore-alarthme has said this, and she does not lie.

The machine in all its hellshapes first was made by the chaudatu to serve the chaudatu. It has always betrayed them, as the unknown traitor in my father's house has betrayed me. The Gentle People have counted a hundred generations since the Machine was defeated, and we do not forget. If my arthame has been occulted, I will be purified and made whole, and my name added to the songs the Starborn sing at the burning ghats. But before that time, I will bring my father word of treachery.

I was meant to die, and the only possible betrayers are our own.


We took the first bolt that came along. Everybody else was heading into the Audience Chamber where the free floorshow was going to be and didn't miss us. We was still in a part of the Palace where it was legit to be, but soon or late the legitimates would trip over us and wonder what we was doing here instead of there. I hoped we found Kennor-bai first.

From what I knew and what Tiggy'd told me, he'd be traveling with a hellflower garden slightly larger than the crew of the Woebegone, all nice-minded as hell and armed to the earlobes. And Kennor was here, so they'd all be here too.

So where was one now, when it would do some good?

Finally we saw a 'flower dressed up real legit in House Starborn blue leather and Tiggy sang out in helltongue. The Junior Brother of Mercy was dressed with the complete disregard for local customs and weather characteristic of hellflowers abroad. The local Peacekeepers must be having peristaltic strophes over him too; he was wearing a pair of heavyweight blasters in a crossover rig with a rifle slung over his back. And his hellflower knife, of course. Not glued down.

Him and Tiggy choodled back and forth for whiles. The word "chaudatu" figured very fine and free in the conversation, and by now I'd picked up enough helltongue to be able to figure out that Junior Brother's name was Blackhammer and he wasn't buying Tiggy's story about being Valijon Starbringer the missing son-and-only. The "chaudatu" in the case was Yours Truly: chaudatu means, sort of, "non-person who not only doesn't have a Knife, they are never going to be honorable enough to even stand next to somebody who's got a Knife and ought to just off themselves now." If a hellflower likes you, he calls you alarthme, which also means Got-No-Knife. Go figure.

"Look here," I interrupted, "maybe you don't know by eyeball Missing Heir Baijon, but his da does. Why don't you just take us to Kennor-bai and let him arrest us?"

Blackhammer didn't want to admit he savvied Interphon, but Tiggy added something nasty about walls and shadows in helltongue so Blackhammer fingered his Knife and finally agreed.

We went wayaways to a place with "personal and private place for very important sophont" stamped all over it in Intersign glyphs. Blackhammer slid open the door. There was about a dozen hellflowers around the place, and I'd rather of walked into a cycling hyperdrive. Seen as a group, hellflowers was stunning -- tall, light-haired, dark-skinned, trademark hellflower-blue eyes. Inbreeding that'd make any dicty-colony turn green with envy, and gorgeous.

Not to mention insecure. There was enough hardware here to fill a pretty good Imperial armory and more cold iron than in the entire Starfleet -- this in spite of its being illegal for civilians to carry heat anywhere in the Directorate. If I'd cared especial about getting out of here alive it would of worried me.

Blackhammer and Tiggy and me went through another door into a room with a desk, but wasn't no Kennor Starbringer there neither, much as I'd hoped.

The woman behind the desk was hellflower, older than Tiggy, and wearing enough flashcandy to make her a topseeded member of the garden club. Her hair was chopped short and she wore an eyepatch and her face was stippled with white scars she hadn't bothered to fix. Burns, looked like. She took one good look at the two of us and sent Blackhammer out quick, and I realized Tiggy and me was dead meat. She turned on Tiggy.

They fell into each other's arms.

The yap got pretty thick but the general idea wasn't too hard to follow: Golly, we thought you was dead, where you been? Well you see it's like this, I met this chaudatu...

Eventually they stopped playing old home week and she turned to me. Up close and personal like this I could see her scars was real recent, and it nagged at me like a old enemy. There was something about burns at the edge of my mind ...

"House Starborn owes you its thanks for preserving the life of the Honored One Valijon and returning him to us. Ask what you will in weregild and it will be granted to you. Come, Honored Valijon, your father will rejoice to see that you have been restored to him."

Or in the lingua franca of deep space, thanks awfully and get lost.

Tiggy backed up against me. "Kore Winterfire, I am sworn to obedience to the Kore San'Cyr until my father himself accepts me back." He sounded average-to-pretty-well distressed about it, but stubborn.

"Surely the woman excuses you from this pledge." Winterfire looked poisoned gimlets at me, but it wasn't my look-out if she couldn't keep her hands on the son-and-heir in first place.

"Ea dzain'domere!" Tiggy pointed out in helltongue. He'd promised.

"A promise is a promise, Honored Valijon, but it is ill-done to promise in words of power to those not of the Gentle People. If the Honored Kennor must give the chaudatu an audience it cannot be now. He is already robing for Court and cannot see it until after the ceremony. The chaudatu may wait if it wishes."

Winterfire gave me a monocular glare indicating I better have business elsewhere. Too bad I never learned to take hints like that.

"Oh we wait all right," I said. "Got nothing better to do."

"Then perhaps you will wish to view the opening ceremony." Winterfire was all smiles now and it should of worried me. "I will tell the Honored One that you are here, and have Puer Blackhammer find places for you. After it is over he will conduct you to your father, Honored Valijon."

I could see Tiggy wasn't too thrilled with that idea, but I liked the thought of watching the show a lot better than I liked sitting around backstage with a bunch of hellflowers all post-meridies.

"Yeah, yeah, reet -- c'mon, 'flower, lets go watch your da make nice with the Imperials, j'keyn?"

"Ea," said Tiggy, sounding tired.

Brother Blackhammer slid Tiggy and me into the Audience Chamber of the Palace of Justice through the side door marked 'Important People Only'. Blackhammer locked it up tight behind us and we took seats in the very important sophont section up front.

I couldn't shake the feeling I'd seen Winterfire somewheres before, but the only hellflowers bar Tiggy I'd seen lately had been on a planet called Kiffit and trying to kill me.

It was just too damn bad I didn't remember then what I knew about the hellflower smile.