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Author: Kate Elliott
Publisher: DAW Books, 1992
Series: Jaran: Book 1
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction / Fantasy
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In the future, Earth is just one of the planets ruled by the vast Chapalii empire. The volatility of these alien overlords is something with which Tess Soerensen is all too familiar. Her brother, Charles, rebelled against them at one time and was rewarded by being elevated into their interstellar system-yet there is reason to believe they murdered his and Tess's parents.

Struggling to find her place in the world and still mending a broken heart, Tess sneaks aboard a shuttle bound for Rhui, one of her brother's planets. On the ground, she joins up with the native jaran people, becoming immersed in their nomadic society and customs while also attempting to get to the bottom of a smuggling scheme she encountered on her journey there. As she grows ever closer to the charismatic jaran ruler, Ilya-who is inflamed by an urgent mission of his own-Tess must choose between her feelings for him and her loyalty to her brother.


It was hot, so hot that she immediately broke out in a sweat. Her hand clenched the computer slate. She felt like a traitor. Because she had no intention of going to Odys. She was afraid to go there, afraid to tell her own and only sibling that she could not carry on in his place, that she did not want the honor or the responsibility-that she did not know what she wanted, not at all. She did not even have the courage to tell a good friend. And Sojourner had been a good friend to her, these past years.

In the suite reserved for the captain, three Chapalii stood as she entered, bowed in by the steward. He hung back, retraining his hold on her exalted valise, as the wall closed between them. Tess surveyed her audience with dismay. To interview the captain was bad enough. To face three of them...

She refused to give in to this kind of fear. The captain, thank God, was easy to recognize, because he wore the alloy elbow clip that marked his authority as a ship's master. She drew in her breath, lifted her chin, and inclined her head with the exact degree of condescension that a duke's heir might grant a mere ship's captain.

Before the captain could bow, one of the other Chapalii stepped forward. "Who has allowed this interruption?" he demanded in formal Chapalii. "Our business here is private, Hao Yakii." The Chapalii turned his gaze on Tess, but she knew her ground here; indeed, conduct was so strictly regulated in Chapalii culture that she usually had a limited number of responses. It made life much easier. Knowing he was at fault, she could regard him evenly in return. As he realized that the captain, and, belatedly, the other Chapalii, were bowing deeply to her, his skin hazed from white to blue.

"I am honored," said the captain, straightening, "to be the recipient of your attention, Lady Terese. May I be given permission to hope that your brother the duke is in good health and that his endeavors are all flourishing and productive?"

"You may."

The slightest reddish tinge of satisfaction flushed the captain's face. He bowed in acknowledgment and gestured to his companions, introducing them in the formal, long-winded Chapalii style, not only their names but their house and affiliation and title and station and level of affluence: Cha Ishii Hokokul, younger son of the younger son of a great lord, no longer well off, traveling back to the home world; Hon Echido Keinaba, a fabulously wealthy merchant traveling to Odys to negotiate several deals with the merchants of the esteemed Tai-en Soerensen's household. Hon Echido bowed a second time, skin white, secure in his quick recognition of the duke's sister and doubtless hoping that his acumen here would stand him in good stead in the haggling to come. Cha Ishii bowed as well, but it was not nearly as deep a bow as a duke's heir merited.

Tess acknowledged them and nodded again at the captain. "Hao Yakii. I desire passage on your ship, to the Dao Cee system."

He did not hesitate. Of course, he could not. "It is yours, Lady Terese. You honor me and my family with your presence."

Before she could reply, Cha Ishii compounded his first offense by addressing the captain in court Chapalii. "Hao Yakii, this is impossible that a Mushai's relative should be allowed on this run. You must prevent it."

Hao Yakii went violet with mortification, whether at Ishii's effrontery or at some mistake he had just realized. Hon Echido watched, neutral, unreadable, and doubtless unsure whether any human could actually understand the intricacies of court Chapalii.

But Tess's dismay had evaporated, drawn off by her irritation at Ishii's assumption that she could not understand him, and by sheer human curiosity at the mention of that name, Mushai. "You refer, I believe," she said directly to Ishii in court Chapalii, thus indirectly insulting him, "to the Tai-en Mushai. Was he not a duke who rebelled against one of your ancient emperors?"

Ishii blushed violet.

Violet and pink warred in the captain's face. Approval won. "Lady Terese, it is, as you would call it-" A long pause. "A fable. A legend. Do you not have legends of ages past when your lands ran with precious metals and all people of proper rank had sufficient wealth to maintain their position, and then a traitor who would not adhere to right conduct brought ruin to everyone by his selfish actions?"

Tess almost laughed. How often as a child had she and her classmates been told of that time a mere two centuries ago when a consortium of five solar systems bound by inexplicably close genetic ties and the enthusiasm of newly-discovered interstellar flight had invested their League Concordance as law? A brief golden age, they called it, before the Chapaliian Empire, in its relentless expansion, had absorbed the League within its imperial confines.

"Yes. Yes, we do," she replied. She felt a fierce exultation in confronting these Chapaliians whom she now outranked, thinking of her brother's failed rebellion against the Empire, ten years before her birth, because he was not a traitor to his kind, to humankind, but a hero. Even now, when the Chapalii, for reasons only Chapalii understood, had ennobled him. Even now, made a duke-the only human granted any real status within their intricate hierarchy of power, given a solar system as his fief, endowed with fabulous wealth-Charles Soerensen simply bided his time, and the Chapalii seemed not to suspect.

"The honored duke will be pleased to see his heir on Odys," said Hon Echido.

His colorless words shattered her thoughts, exposing her to her own bitter judgment: that she was afraid, that her life lay in chaos around her, and that even what little her brother asked of her she could not grant.

* * *
She opened her valise and changed into the clothing she had brought, clothing that could pass as native on Rhui: light undergarments, special thermal cloth cut into tunics that layered over trousers, and leather boots. The cut and texture of the clothes felt strange. At least the thermal cloth insulated her from both heat and cold.

A pouch hung from the belt she put on. She filled it: Jedan coins, mostly, a handkerchief, gloves, the old Egyptian ankh necklace given to her by Sojourner, unremarkable odds and ends for hygiene, a volume of philosophic essays from the university in Jeds. Anything else she needed she could get once she arrived at the palace in Jeds.

She laid the computer slate down on a table and reread her letter. The sentence about her dissertation she erased, and in its place she wrote: I have reason to be suspicious of this cargo run. I'll keep my eyes open. She locked the slate's memory. A looped message on the screen instructed that the slate be taken to her brother. On impulse, she keyed the cosmetic function and ran a hand over the screen. It darkened to a reflective surface, mirroring her. Light brown hair-some called it auburn. Not slim, though her former fiancé had constantly reminded her that she could be. She only resembled her brother in her deep-set eyes, her high cheekbones, and in a certain grace of form lent by the coordination of parts and an evenly proportioned body. Perhaps it would be best just to go on to Odys. God, though, she did not want to face Charles.

Even as she thought it, the captain's intercom, which she had left on, chimed to announce that the cargo shuttle would depart in one Chapalii hour. She slapped the reflective screen off, not even wanting to face herself, and left the suite. She was doing her duty to Charles, going to Rhui on this shuttle.

A steward waited outside. She waved him off and headed alone by lifts and passageways down to docking. Her retinal-ident scan gave her access to the entire ship. As she passed, stewards bowed and got out of her way. She cycled through the decontamination threshold and crossed the transom to the feeder that snaked out to the waiting shuttle. In the holding room off to one side, Hao Yakii, elbow clip gleaming, stood speaking with a cluster of Chapalii.

Tess hesitated. No one, not even a steward, blocked the feeder. Doubtless cargo was being transferred into the shuttle farther down. To go over to Hao Yakii demanded that she change her direction, announce her arrival in another room, and inform him of her change of plans in front of an audience. A real investigator would just go on, not asking for permission. She barely slackened her steps as she walked up the feeder and on to the shuttle.

Was she being bold, or simply cowardly? Tears stung her eyes, and she wiped them away impatiently. A bubble lift gave access onto the control bulb, and through its open tube she heard the pilot conversing with some merchant about their cargo. Horses? The lift must be distorting his words. Ahead, an elaborate glyph marked a contained storage hold. She could either ride down in there or confront the pilot now. She had lifted up her hand before she even realized she'd made the decision. The wall seamed away from the entrance to the hold. She took one step in. Stopped, amazed, and then shook herself and slipped inside as the wall closed behind her.


She had expected sundry bags of trading goods for the handful of Earth merchants and anthropologists who lived, disguised, among the native populations, or possibly even boxes within boxes of laboratory or communications equipment for the hidden rooms in the palace at Jeds. She had certainly not expected horses.

The animals breathed and shifted around her. Their scent lay heavy and overwhelming in the confined space. A quivering hum stirred the shuttle. The horses moved restlessly, and Tess felt the floor shift, a nauseating distortion, and they were free of the Oshaki. She settled back into a shadowed corner to wait.

The hold's walls gave off enough light that she could extract the book of essays from the pouch and read aloud to herself, practicing the language which had gone on to give its name to the planet. It was the language spoken in Jeds, where Charles had established a native provenance for himself, and a role, as the prince of that city, through which he could keep track of his interdicted planet.

A loud snort startled her from her book. High vibrations shook through the floor-the landing engines. She had thought the Oshaki to be above the northernmost reaches of the Jedan continent; it had been a remarkably fast trip. The shuttle jerked and shuddered, then stilled. They had landed.

Silence, broken by the nervous shifting of the horses. With a sharp crack, the hull opened. Light poured in. Tess flung one hand up over her eyes to protect them. Didn't the shuttles land on their off-shore island spaceport at night, to minimize the risk of being seen? Perhaps the routine had changed.

From the outer stalls, horses were herded out. Someone counted down a list in Chapalii: thirty-two, forty-five, fifty-six. Hooves rang on the ramp. Two Chapalii discussed grass and manure in neutral, colorless voices. Finally, their boots sounded dully, fading, on the metal ramp as they left. In the distance, a horse neighed. Someone shouted in Chapalii. Saddles? The word was unfamiliar.

Tess rose, put away the book, and walked to the ramp to look outside. She saw grass, sloping up to the ring of low hills that surrounded this tiny valley. About fifty yards away a clump of broken boulders littered the grass. Around the shuttle to her left she heard the horses, and other sounds-unloading on the primary ramp, the cargo master going over lists with the League agents who channeled the trade between the island and Jeds.

She half slid down the ramp, hopping to the ground. Thick grass cushioned her landing. The air was sharper, fresher, colder than she remembered.

With a burst of movement, horses emerged from behind the shuttle, herded by eleven riders dressed in native clothing. The riders looked strange; in fact, all of this looked a little strange. She did not recall the shuttle valley to be a land with so little variety: the sky such a monotone of deep blue, cloudless, the land a gentle incline to the heights, covered with an unbroken layer of grass and patches of unmelted snow. The riders paused at the crest. A few looked back before the entire group rode out of sight.

The riders were Chapalii. And they were wearing native clothing. Charles would never countenance this. She ran out to see where they were going, to find whomever of Charles's people was letting this violation of the interdiction take place.

A high hum warned her. She threw herself down on the ground. A gust of heat roiled over her and faded. She rose to her knees, lifting her hand to alert them that she was here. But the shuttle had already taken off. She stared, astounded. The blast of a human ship would have killed her, this close. She watched the sleek smoothness of its upward path, hearing only the wind against her ears, like the faint echo of the lengthening of its arc. They had not had time to unload the entire cargo. There was a last wink of silver and then only the violet-blue of the sky. If she had not known what to look for, she would never have seen it.

Copyright © 1992 by Kate Elliott


Jaran - Kate Elliot

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