CHAPTER 8 (part 4 of 4)

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In a darkened room in the city of Toohkansay, nine lords of Fale sat around a table in their black robes and boots. Their masked faces shone in shades of crimson starlight. Veriasse and Everynne sat with them, both masked and cloaked as lords, Everynne in a pale blue mask, Veriasse in aquamarine. Though they had been on the planet for less than an hour, Veriasse had set up this meeting nearly five years earlier, and as Everynne watched her guardian, she could see that he was tense to the snapping point. His back was rigidly straight, and his mask revealed his profound worry.

All their years of plotting came to this. If anyone down the long trail of freedom fighters had betrayed them, now was when they would be arrested. And everyone in the room expected to be arrested: one of their number had not been seen in two days. Surely, the dronon had captured him, wrung his secrets from him. Because of this, they had been forced to change the meeting place at the last moment.

One crimson lord, a woman whose name Everynne did not even know, pulled from the depths of her robe a small glass globe, a yellow sphere that could easily fit in Everynne's palm or in a pocket. "As Lord of the Technicians of Fale, I freely give you this in behalf of my people," the woman said. "Use it wisely, if you must use it at all."

Everynne took the globe, held it in her palm. It was as heavy as lead. Inside, was a small dark cloud at the machine's core—a housing where the nanotech components were stored, along with a small explosive charge designed to crack the globe and set its microscopic inhabitants free. In ages past, only a few weapons like this had ever been used. People called it "the Terror." It seemed only right to Everynne that something which could destroy a world would be so gravid, so weighty.

"How fast will it work?" Everynne asked.

The crimson lady's mask showed sadness. "The Terrors reproduce at an explosive rate. We designed them to seek out carbon molecules and form graphite. On a living planet, every animal, every plant, the atmosphere itself will be destroyed. Only the Terrors will survive for more than a day. They will appear as a blue shimmering cloud, moving outward through the sky at two thousand kilometers per hour. On the ground and in the sea, they move somewhat faster. The Terrors would destroy most worlds within a matter of twelve to eighteen hours."

Everynne watched the woman's face. The crimson lady was old, centuries old, and in that time she had probably learned to control her emotions exquisitely, yet her voice cracked as she spoke of the machine's capacity for genocide.

"And how fast could this destroy Dronon?" Veriasse asked. "Will the Terrors be slowed significantly by being forced to reproduce on such a dry, desolate world?"

Even as Veriasse asked the question, Everynne cringed. The thought that the weapon might actually be used disturbed her. Time and again, she had begged Veriasse not to fashion such a weapon, to create only a simulated Terror. If the glass case broke, an entire planet would be destroyed. But Veriasse would not hear her arguments. He planned to take the Terror to the planet Dronon itself. He wanted to fear him, and the only way he could arouse such fear was if the dronon knew that a working Terror lay hidden on their world.

But sometimes at night, Everynne wondered if he had a hidden agenda. If refused to concede to his demands, she wondered, would Veriasse hesitate to lay the planet Dronon to waste?

"Dronon's atmosphere is heavier in carbon dioxide than most. The Terrors will find it to their taste."

Another of the masked lords smiled cruelly and said, "I designed the package with Dronon in mind. The planet can be terminated in six hours and fourteen minutes. Just make sure that you are near the imperial lair when you set it off."

Everynne was disturbed by the man's maleficent air. It pained her to see her people given over to such hatred. Though she knew that the dronons had killed her own mother, Everynne did not hate them. She understood them too well, understood their need for order at any cost, their instinctive desire to expand their territories and control their environment. "Let us have no more talk of genocide," Everynne said. "Even if we tried to fight the dronon on such terms, they would be forced to retaliate. In such a war, there can be no victors."

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