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… Perhaps the Stars

… Perhaps the Stars

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I rose, neither threatening nor shying back, just set to spring. “These two were summoned by the

Emperor themself. Shall I call Caesar? Or would you prefer I call Police Commissioner General

Ektor Papadelias?”

I could see the aggressors now, five Humanists, their jackets bright with sailors’ stripes and sport

team patches, reeking from a long day’s revels. We watched each other silently, as stags face off

across a clearing, debating with eyes alone whether or not to break the woodland peace with war.

“It’s not worth it,” their leader judged, a sinewy young thing who probably deserved the champion

colors on his wrestler’s cap. “Come on, let’s go get seats for the fireworks.”

In my place, reader, would you have offered your silent thanks to Chance or God?

“Are you injured?” I asked as I turned to the pair behind me.

“Untouched, thanks, Mycroft.”

In the darkness of the alley, the long contours of their Utopian coats glowed timidly, like ghosts

threatening to vanish if I glanced away. Confess, reader, you too rush to the window to see when they

walk by, and point them out to eager friends, “Look at the Utopian!” Do I assume too much? Perhaps

you have never seen one. You may not be my contemporary, but a distant biographer, culling my faded

history for data on one of our Great Men. Utopians are common now, but by history’s standards they

must be ephemeral, winged ants born to pioneer new colonies, who cannot linger long among the

workers. How shall I describe these aliens of the past to one whose world is no longer so colorful?

Their coats were more than Hive markers, they were windows to another world. Griffincloth was

developed for camouflage, a flexible, fabric-like surface which could display in real time the video

feed of objects on the other side, making an object properly equipped with Griffincloth invisible. A

tent of Griffincloth need not blemish the landscape, and a cop in Griffincloth need not fear being shot

on the approach, but these wondersmiths would not leave it at that. Utopian coats are dream visions,

created by covering a long trench coat with Griffincloth and programming the computer to process the

real image before projecting it, substituting gold for gray, marble for brick, fish for birds, whatever

the Utopian imagines. Of the pair who stood before me in the alley, one’s coat showed a City of

Tomorrow built in Space, so the palace behind us floated in a star sea, the plants fitted with oxygen

collectors and the cars with solar sails like flying fish. The other coat showed the palace as a ruin

overgrown by swamp, the same stones aged a thousand years, with fantastic creatures sunning

themselves on the wreck, like dragons of the Middle Ages, the oddest pieces of a dozen beasts

assembled into one furred, scaled, and feathered alien. The coats are not mere games, nor decoration,

like the Mitsubishi cloth which blooms and fades with the aesthetic progress of the seasons. Utopia

means ‘nowhere,’ so all Utopians drape themselves in their most precious nowheres.

“Thank you for letting them go peacefully.” I nodded toward the retreating drunks.

The coat of ruins shrugged. “We’re used to it.”

You may not believe me, but I wept. The Anonymous calls these crimes of stupidity, people drunk

on rage, power, or chemicals, who realize when sober just how much their fleeting folly threw away.

I think of them more as crimes of the Stifled Predator, for Nature built her greatest ape to hunt as well

as gather, and if a zoo lion goes mad eating only vat-grown steak, then so can you. Servicers are

common targets—that I can forgive. Even when the victims are young friends, who crawl back to the

dorms and spend nights shaking in my arms, I can forgive, for Servicers are guilty. What penance,



though, must this tainted world perform to purge this instinct to attack Utopians, whose only crime is

thinking too much of tomorrow?

“We heard you were here, Mycroft. Which Alpha called you?” Though the voice was brave, the

speaker drew her coat of stars tightly about herself, and even the digital blackness could not hide her

shivers. Her name is Aldrin Bester, a fine Utopian name lifted from their canon, as in the olden days

Europe took its names from lists of saints.

“The Duc de la Trémoïlle called me,” I answered, lapsing in my distraction from Ganymede’s

public name to his proper one, which few non-Frenchmen use. “The six Hive leaders are all at the

party. Which shall I inform of your arrival?”

“We’re not here for the Alphas. We’re here for you.” The second Utopian, in his coat of ruins, was

taller than Aldrin, his short hair French brown to her Eastern black. He bears the honorable name

Voltaire Seldon. The Patriarch deserves to be honored for a hundred reasons, but he owes his

elevation to the Utopian canon to the novella Micromegas, which makes him a candidate for the title

of world’s first science-fiction author. “Martin called us about these break-ins, Black Sakura and

Saneer-Weeksbooth. We have questions, and I expect you to use none of the glamours you use on

centrics.”

“No deceptions,” I promised, translating their Utopian slang. “Never with you.”

Voltaire’s face switched for a moment from the sternness of business to a more personal sternness.

“Have you been using your days well, Mycroft?”

“I’ve been trying. Chair Kosala has me drafting a proposal for improving the Servicer Program,

and the Emperor had me teach a private seminar for their Lictors on the history of violence.”

“Are you writing?”

I looked at my feet. “I haven’t had time. I’ve had a lot of assignments lately, and I’m only allowed

anti-sleeps twice a week.”

Voltaire frowned. “Those are common excuses. You don’t get to use common excuses.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll do more.”

“Do less,” Aldrin cut in. “I know you. You’re filling your hours with nano-charities and calling it

productivity. Do less and you’ll output more.”

“Yes,” I confessed. “You’re right. I’ll do better.”

“Good.” The illusion of her eyes seemed sad, but even I cannot trust the expressions on a

Utopian’s transparent-seeming visor. The lenses the rest of us wear display our tracker data perfectly,

so in theory there is no need for the heavy visors Utopians prefer, which cover the face from brows to

cheekbones, so their eyes never see true sun. Rumor insists that Utopians only wear the visors to

deceive us. The Griffincloth surfaces make them seem transparent, so projected eyes meet ours, and

seem to smile and squint as real eyes do, but, if the coats can transform day to night or earth to stars,

surely the visors can replace their true expressions with what they want us to see.

“Shall we move inside?” I gestured to the door behind me. “There’s an empty storeroom nearby.”

I let them enter first, so I, selfish creature, could delight in the coats which filled the hall before me

with their fantasies. In Voltaire’s nowhere the palace walls teemed with cracks, and the cracks with

tiny lizard-ants whose micro-civilization assembled the crumbs of marble into knee-high palaces. In

Aldrin’s nowhere the floor became a shimmering force field between us and empty space, on whose



translucence I could see Voltaire striding beyond her, fitted with a space suit, solar panels folded at

his sides like veil-light wings.

Aldrin began the interrogation. “Martin told us what you said about the Traceshifter Artifact.”

I sighed my gratitude that one Hive at least did not say ‘Canner Device.’ “I haven’t had a chance

yet to start tracking down the people I bought the packaging from. The Censor needed me today.”

“Were they Japanese by nation-strat?”

The question made me frown. “I believe so. We spoke Japanese, but these were underground

meetings, no one wore insignia.”

Aldrin nodded. “We scanned the tracker records from the hours around this theft. The artifact’s hex

left afterpaths. We are beginning to map its movement. It makes tracker IDs jump from victim to

victim as people pass close by each other, so yours might jump to mine, then mine to Voltaire’s,

Voltaire’s to another, bumping signal after signal, sometimes swapping back when people cross paths

a second time, folding back on itself to make the threads harder to trace. The wielder can cast the hex

kilometers from the target, then wait for the desired signal to drift out on the tide of exchanges. The

effect entered the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash’house on a guest of Thisbe Saneer, then swapped the

signals of everyone in the bash’ several times over, and Ockham’s signal traveled out on Cato

Weeksbooth. From there it was easy enough for the caster to acquire it. We are still combing the

records to see how many trackers were affected. Hundreds.”

I nodded. “And anyone affected is a suspect. No, anyone near anyone who was near anyone

affected?”

“More,” Aldrin corrected. “We found this chain by examining Ockham Saneer, but if the caster

also traceshifted themself separately, that will take us much more time to track. The chain we’ve

found is just the mask. Until we trace the effects more completely, no one on Earth has a true alibi,

nor anyone in orbit. Cielo de Pájaros is close to the Esmeraldas Elevator.”

Voltaire nodded, the visor showing me grim eyes. “Meanwhile we must hunt by motive, Mycroft.

What motive do you smell?”

I flinched. “There are too many.”

“You told Martin that you believe occult powers within the Japanese Mitsubishi forged this

artifact?”

“I … I have no proof.”

“You have instincts. Voice them.”

I took a deep breath. “I think … I think it was the Japanese Mitsubishi bloc originally. After news

of the theft broke, when I was hunting for the thieves, everything I found, everyone involved, makers,

smugglers, whatever the continent, they were always Japanese. It’s hard to believe a criminal group

wealthy enough to develop something so expensive would be that homogenous. And it didn’t seem

like something a criminal group would want to put together anyway. Why spend so much on research

and development when you have veteran killers who drop their trackers for hits all the time?”

“Not criminals, then,” Aldrin confirmed. “But why would the Mitsubishi bloc forge such a

superprosthesis?”

I smiled at her U-speak, ‘superprosthesis,’ so much more precise than ‘tool’ for describing this

thing designed to grant humans a superhuman skill. “I don’t know. The effect you describe, it’s



overkill for breaking into Black Sakura. That doesn’t require juggling hundreds of trackers, it

requires a good crowbar. Whoever did this wants us to be looking for the device, wants the panic and

the witch hunt back.”

A pawing at the door made me jump, but it was only Aldrin’s black unicorn, which had followed

us up the hallway. It is strange calling it ‘normal’ watching this unicorn, as sprightly as a lamb and

sleek as shadow, scamper to its partner’s side, but, with Utopians among us, such happy wonders are

common. It is easy, if you look it up, to learn which types of U-beasts are robots and which

biological, but most of us prefer not to research how these fantastic pets are made, so, when we see a

Utopian pass by with a miniature pterodactyl on his shoulders, or a gold-plumed griffin trotting at her

heels, uncertainty lets us imagine that the wonder might, like Bridger’s Boo, be real.

Aldrin offered her U-beast a welcoming stroke, then turned to me. “Why did you seek the

Traceshifter Artifact in the first place?”

“Did Martin not tell you?”

“We know what illusion you cast with the packaging, but why? Your work was done. You had no

further need for deception.”

Lies rose by instinct in my throat. I fought them back. “I didn’t want my real methods exposed. I

didn’t expect to use them again myself, but I didn’t want that door closed for others.” Shame kept me

from glancing up, for fear of the disapproval in their projected eyes. “And also, I figured that, if I had

the packaging, whoever was responsible for the device would assume that more investigation might

link my crimes to them. They’d have an incentive to hurry the trial along, and my methods would

never be fully investigated.”

I dared to peek now at the pair. They seemed to gaze on one another through their visors, silenced

by the darkness of their thoughts. Visor. Why is visor not spelled with a z, reader? Surely an object so

associated with futurism should contain one of the futurist letters, z or x. It feels right to say vizor, not

visor, lazer, not laser.

“And did someone block the investigation of your methods?”

“Yes.”

“Director Andō?” Voltaire leaned forward, so I could see Aldrin through his coat for a moment, a

winged froglike creature whose arteries glowed through its transparent flesh like streams of fireflies.

“Y-es.” The word caught in my throat. “But Andō didn’t order the creation of the device, I’m sure

of that. My impression is that they were furious when they found out it existed. Their involvement has

been damage control, trying to conceal the bad choices of predecessors and subordinates. If you

placed the device in Andō’s hand right now they would destroy it.”

As I answered, Aldrin had her unicorn extend a winglike screen, and began skimming through its

data. “Do you know the Artifact’s original purpose? Was it forged for one specific end?”

“I don’t know.”

Vizors exchanged digital glances. “Does Andō know?”

“I don’t know if Andō knows. And I don’t know if whoever is using the device now knows either.

I think the thief wants to topple Andō. Whatever the device was for, it’s easy to make it seem like it

was designed for theft and murder. If the Japanese strat seems to be responsible for my crimes, if they

seem to have been plotting to use this device for some kind of espionage, it would drive them out of



power in the Mitsubishi for a generation, more. And if Andō and Danaë go down, they’ll drag

Ganymede with them.”

Aldrin flipped through more data on the wing-screen. “Do you know why the thief involved the

Saneer-Weeksbooth bash’?”

Bridger’s face, white with terror in my imagination, made me freeze. I did not want to lie to them,

reader, not to Utopia. I did not want to lie, but, for what hides in that one house, I was prepared to

force myself. It took some breaths for me to realize that no lies were needed. “I have no idea. I can’t

think of anything to connect that bash’ to Black Sakura, or the Gyges Device, or internal Mitsubishi

politics in any way. What I do know is that we need to protect that bash’house, more than anywhere

on Earth. Martin I trust, Martin is gentle, but now the public knows one half of what’s happened. If

they find out the other half, and the public screams for a big, showy investigation of the SaneerWeeksbooth bash’, it will … I can’t overstate how much it could disrupt.” I paused. The numbers in

the Censor’s sanctum rose blood red in my mind: 33-67; 67-33; 29-71. Should I break confidence?

Commit the well-intentioned treason of leaking from that most inviolate of Romanova’s offices? Or

could I make my fears clear without treason? “There are … elements of this which align with

predictions made by members of the Mardi bash’.”

Digital eyes showed neither warmth nor judgment. “What do you see in that?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Disrupting the cars hurts everyone. I can’t even say it hurts the

Humanists and Mitsubishi most because the Masons and Cousins have more Members so use the

system that much more. The only…” I choked. “The only Hive it doesn’t hurt is you.”

They stared at me, both of them, exchanging silent data behind their vizors, though whether with

one another or with distant members of their constellation I could not say. They were the only ones

immune. They, aloof in their separate transit system, had no interest in the bash’ which pumped the

lifeblood of six Hives through Earth’s broad skies; six but not seven. I told you, reader, that Utopia

does not give up on dreams. When a Utopian dies, of anything, the cause is marked and not forgotten

until solved. A fall? They rebuild the site to make it safe. A criminal? They do not rest until he is

rendered harmless. An illness? It is researched until cured, regardless of the time, the cost, over

generations if need be. A car crash? They create their separate system, slower, less efficient, costing

hours, but which has never cost a single life. Even for suicide they track the cause, and so, patiently,

blade by blade, disarm Death. Death, of course, has many weapons, and, if they have deprived him of

a hundred million, he still has enough at hand to keep them mortal. For now.

“You really thought it was us, didn’t you?”

The itch of a tear on my cheek made me realize, for the first time, that, yes, I had. I had thought it

was them, feared it was them, deep down inside where thoughts aren’t words yet. Relief’s catharsis

washed over me. It wasn’t them. It was some viper from the familiar pit putting its fangs to use. Even

if a constellation takes a viper’s shape to brave the pit, the starlight holds no venom.

Aldrin had her U-beast stow its screen. “We’ve set watch over the tracker system. When next the

hex is cast, we will know, almost instantly, and we’ll send in Romanova. The second strike will be

the last.”

I laughed inside. Next they will deprive Death of the Canner Device. I was right, thirteen years

ago, not to even try to buy the real thing. The packaging could deceive long-term, but, if I had used the



device itself, Utopia in anger would have had me on the second day. It isn’t only the Utopians who

become a little more immortal with every blade they take away. It isn’t only they who delight in

seeing unicorns and wingrays in the street, who gaze through Griffincloth into enchanting nowheres,

and ride the shuttles to the brave, bare Moon, which their efforts make a little less bare every day. We

all enjoy these wonders, all of us, all Hives, all Hiveless. Reader, you should not have barred Apollo

Mojave from the Pantheon.



CHAPTER THE FOURTEENTH



The Interlude of the Interview with Retired Black Sakura Reporter

Tsuneo Sugiyama, as Related by Martin Guildbreaker

Mycroft Canner asked me to relate this interview, since they were at President Ganymede’s party at

the time, and did not witness it. Mycroft is very worried that, after having a different guide for one

chapter, the reader will be unwilling to trust a criminal again, so they asked me to state clearly from

the start that I will author only this chapter, and afterward Mycroft will carry on.

Mycroft insists that I introduce myself, my bash’, and family first, in accordance with period

custom, though I note that Mycroft broke that rule themself. My birth name is Mycroft Guildbreaker. I

do not know why the Porphyrogene J.E.D.D. Mason, during their sixth year, began to call me Martin,

but I have now been known by that nickname for fifteen years. I am thirty-two years old, born July

2nd, 2422. The Confraternidomitor bash’ (in English Guildbreaker) is an hereditary bash’ founded in

2177 and unbroken since. My biological parents are Minister Charlemagne Guildbreaker Jr., and

August Guildbreaker, currently Romanovan Praetor for the Masonic Hive and formerly personal

secretary to Emperor Aeneas MASON. (Mycroft wanted to use “Empress” for female MASONS, but

I find Mycroft’s gendered language disruptive, and have restored the customary ‘Emperor,’ both in

this chapter and Mycroft’s earlier discussion of Agrippa MASON). Both my parents are descended

from previous Emperors or their ba’sibs, one from Tiber MASON and the other from a sibling of

Antonine MASON, while the other seven ba’pas in my birth bash’ are third-generation Masons at the

least. I took the adulthood competency exam in my fourteenth year, immediately became a Familiaris

of the Emperor, undertook my Annus Dialogorum, and, on its completion, became, on the same day,

Mason, and Minister to the Porphyrogene (child of the Emperor), who was then four years of age. I

studied at the August Polylegal College of the Alexandrian Campus, graduating at twenty-five, and

have, thus far, held all the offices of the Cursus Honorum at the expected ages. The new generation of

my bash’ was formalized when I was twenty, and contains seven members, including four ba’sibs

born to the Guildbreaker name, and three friends from the Alexandrian Campus. One of them, from a

Chinese Mitsubishi bash’, became my spouse, now Xiaoliu Guildbreaker, a Familiaris, Council to

the Emperor, and proud to be the first person not raised in a Masonic bash’ to have joined the

Guildbreaker bash’ in four generations. We have three children, Aeneas, Lissa, and An, and four

other ba’kids born of our four bash’mates, though I confess myself something of a stranger to most of

them, since I am a vocateur, and my duties to the young Porphyrogene mean that I spend more hours

in their bash’ than in my own. Though it is illegal to speculate about such things, I know I have been

widely discussed as a potential successor to the current Emperor; I place no stock in such rumors.

A dissatisfied Mycroft now insists that I append something more vivid about myself, a scene or



anecdote, to enliven this list of flat facts. If there is a keystone event of my fortunes, it was the night

late in my fourteenth year when I exchanged my first adult words with my Emperor. I was waiting for

my ba’pas in a small courtyard garden in the Imperial Palace. I was not aware at the time, but it was a

grim day for Cornel MASON, since Familiaris Calavine Acton had just confessed to the Amador

Treason, so Caesar was considering the first exercise of their Capital Power. This is also why my

ba’pas were at the palace well past midnight. I remember a little fountain which was partly clogged,

so that a faint spray shot sideways onto a bench. The damp of the stone felt good as I sat, though I was

cold, because it made me very aware of my body. I did not notice the Emperor until they spoke.

“What can a child of your age have to think about that makes you look so much more serious than I

myself?”

I remember, looking up, that MASON was at first just an immense dark shape, like a pillar

merging the black of the Earth with the black of the sky, but, as I watched, the spraying water made

glints of light spread along their suit, as if the stars and city lights of the capital were mingling and

multiplying in the new space offered by this living being.

Caesar’s words I remember verbatim, but my own stumbling responses I do not. I answered that I

was trying to decide when to take the Adulthood Competency Exam and prepare for my Annus

Dialogorum. I have no doubt that the custom will outlast these words, but to please Mycroft I will

explain. When an aspiring Mason has passed the exam, and completed the initial courses in Masonic

Law and Government, the initiate is clothed for a year in a suit of pure white, and undertakes the

‘Year of Debate,’ engaging a different person each day in discussion of what it means to be a Mason.

After three hundred and sixty-six debates, if the initiate still wishes to join the Empire, there is no

further test.

“If you have doubt about becoming a Mason,” MASON answered, “the Annus Dialogorum will

settle it.”

I approximate my answer: “That isn’t it, Caesar. There’s no doubt I will be a Mason. I can’t wait

to start speaking Latin, and using and understanding power, and serving you. But I know I’m very

young. If I do my Annus Dialogorum now I’ll understand less than if I wait until I’m older, and learn

less from it about what it really means to be a Mason. I want to be a Mason now, but I don’t want to

waste the Annus, since I only get to do it once.”

MASON’s next words were not to me, but to an aide, commanding that my ba’pas be summoned to

witness my investiture as an Imperial Nepos. That very night—I will not say ‘in my honor’—Cornel

MASON created the Ordo Vitae Dialogorum, “the Order of the Life of Debate.” Membership is open

to all Masons, and marked by one white sleeve, a permanent invitation to engage the wearer in debate

over the Masonic life, not for a year, but lifelong. I wear it proudly. That night too, the title of

Familiaris was promised to me upon my passing the Adulthood Competency Exam, since, by

Alliance Law, a minor may not subject themself to Caesar’s Force.

I had long desired, even expected, these honors, but each in their course as I earned them, not all in

one breath. I asked Caesar in some bewilderment why they granted me so much so quickly. This was

my true investiture: “I have a use for you. You will be my instrument, my touch, my voice, my proxy

while my work keeps me away, the one Masonic influence to counter all the others. You will teach

and guide my son.”



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