Table of Contents
Also by John Meaney from Gollancz:
A Gollancz eBook
Copyright © John Meaney 2010 All rights reserved.
The right of John Meaney to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Great Britain in 2010 by
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London, WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK Company
This eBook first published in 2010 by Gollancz.
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 0 5750 8873 3
This eBook produced by Jouve, France
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A note on Norse names:
In English, the letter combination
has two pronunciations - compare ‘this’ll’ (as in
this’ll be good
) with ‘thistle’.
The following names have a hard
as in ‘this’ or ‘other’: Óthinn, Heithrún.
These names have a soft
as in ‘thistle’ or ‘thing’: Thórr, Thórrvaldr.
Asleep, a man of living crystal lies on a silver bier. Can it be possible to truly sleep with eyelids so clear, so transparent? Yet he does, he and the crystalline woman nearby. Her bier is silver too, inscribed with angular scarlet runes glowing softly in vacuum.
Is that a twitch of the man’s fingertip?
Around them stands a hall of glass and sapphire hung with shields, some of battered leather while others look unused. All bear runes that glimmer red.
The man’s face wrinkles - highlights rippling through pliable crystal - and he rocks his head, rolls a little to one side, then sees the woman. Pushing himself up, he swings his legs to sit sideways on the bier.
You’re so beautiful, and I know you.
They are words without sound, for there is no air in here. Oddly, it makes no difference to the way he feels, chest swelling as if inhaling vacuum, fluids moving inside his complex body, his mind coming alive. The woman’s name does not matter for now, and neither does his own. Soon, he will know all he needs to know.
Scarlet runes are glowing brighter now.
Down to the floor - he feels its temperature through crystalline soles, hears nothing save the internal sounds of his body - and finds it easy to stand, to walk, to look around. There is an archway, and he walks towards it, through it; and he finds a larger hall, star-shaped with nine pointed annexes. Near the ceiling, a constellation of nineteen dots of sapphire light is shining.
Each annexe leads to a hall with polished biers. The nearest, a place of silver and emerald, contains another crystalline man, while above him floats an array of twenty-three shining lights, all of them green, like burning copper.
He remembers burning, and oxygen, and being alive in normal flesh.
Then he staggers, with this memory:
Floating in space, surrounded by a billion blazing suns. Tumbling, he sees what he was meant to see: like a needle thrust by gods through the galactic core, a jet one thousand lightyears in extent, its brightness a soundless resonance in his mind, a scream of fear amid magnificence, because this should
This is the work of Darkness.
As he rotates, the abomination slides out of sight, and he can remember what he should be feeling: awe and joyous humility, for he is the tiniest fragment of awareness at the galaxy’s heart, living for an eyeblink, no more; so how important can humanity’s welfare be?
But then the galactic jet is visible once more, and this time he feels anger, because humans may be insignificant to the cosmic history but not to ourselves, and the betrayers deserve to die, while we do what we can against the Darkness.
There is a spear on the wall nearby, and he takes it down to use as a staff. The runes along its shaft flare brightly at his touch. He stands for a while, leaning on the weapon, letting the emotions from his flash of memory diminish. Soon he will deal with things much better.
From one annexe, a corridor leads away, long and straight, ending in a patch of blackness that draws him. He begins to walk, first with the spear’s support, then with a growing feeling of aliveness. Shifting his grip, he continues with the weapon held horizontally beside his thigh, feeling secure. In this place, there is no danger.
He comes out on a rune-carved balcony of stone, and stares at a black star-strewn sky above a landscape of grey and sharp black shadows, a chiaroscuro of lunar wilderness, because this is indeed the moon that orbits Earth, the world that gave birth to humanity but not to him, not directly.
Beneath the clouds of that living world, bands of crimson and silver shine more brightly than oceanic blue. What they signify, he does not know.
Hello my love.
The words are inside his head. Smiling, he turns to see the crystalline woman.
My beautiful Gavi.
Is that my name?
He reaches out, his clear hand grasping hers.
I am sure it is. If you remember mine, let me know.
They stand looking out at the surface for some unknown time.
How long have we slept?
It is a fair question. He is about to tell her that he does not know when something causes his gaze to drift to a familiar constellation. Three distinct stars form a row.
See Orion’s belt. What colour is the central star?
—It seems . . . red. Does that mean something?
If he waits long enough, she’ll remember the answer by herself. He tells her anyway.
It means a million years have passed.
Her fingers squeeze his.
So much time.
They stare at the banded Earth, sharing wonder, not knowing why they are here. Then words sound inside them, delivered by a feminine voice they respond to, a voice of command.
You remember what we’ve always known to do. Observe what the enemy does, deduce what the enemy intends, and then prevent it.
It is the awakened woman, Gavi, who responds:
And now we fight the Darkness?
Now we fight.
From the lunar night, like the All-Father’s eye, the homeworld of humanity regards them, as it swirls with cloud, banded with silver and crimson, changed in ways they cannot know. The crystalline man raises his spear, saluting Earth.
And then, in soundless vacuum, he laughs.
FULGOR, 2603 AD
Roger rolled straight out of bed, to his feet. According to his old school’s neurokinaesthetics teacher, this was typical acrophobic behaviour; but all he knew was it felt good to be alive, particularly today, because this was freedom. It was also scary: tomorrow, aged eighteen Standard, he would wake up in a new room, his parents far away.