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Empress of Eternity

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Empress of Eternity

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Author: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
Publisher: Tor, 2010

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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In the far future, an indestructible and massive canal more than 2,000 miles long spans the mid-continent of Earth. Nothing can mar it, move it, or affect it in any fashion. At its western end, where it meets the sea, is an equally indestructible structure comprising three levels of seemingly empty chambers.

Scientists from three different civilizations, separated in time by hundreds of thousands of years, are investigating the canal. In the most distant of these civilizations, religious rebellion is brewing. A plot is hatched to overthrow the world government of the Vanir, using a weapon that can destroy anything-except the canal. If used at full power it might literally unravel the universe and destroy all life forever. The lives and fates of all three civilizations become intertwined as the forces behind the canal react to the threat, and all three teams of scientists find their lives changed beyond belief.


Green tendrils of the aurora borealis swept southward across the night sky, and the ground beneath the city groaned and grumbled. Even the towers, from the lowest to those white spires proud against the stars and against the darkness between those points of light, began to sway, more wildly with each set of tremors.

Any eyes that had time to look would have seen a swollen puffy yellow-gray-white circular mass dominating the sky like a sightless eye surrounded by a haze of dust. The first of all too many tsunamis to come crashed across the city from the western ocean, inundating all but the highest spires before it retreated, and those towers in turn crumpled into the rest of the rubble.

Small streaks of fiery white scarred the sky, followed by more and larger streaks, and by an increasing set of sounds like roaring thunder. Waves of burning red and smoldering purple flowed across the sky to blot out the white point-lights of the stars.

Amid it all, with the very earth rupturing, and flaming debris cascading down through the shattered tendrils of the aurora, a gray-blue arc shimmered into being, spanning the mid-section of the tortured lands of the continent...

...and rising from that stone solidity, the only solidity upon the Earth in those terrible moments, climbed a brilliant rainbow, its colors brighter than any sun, accelerating heavenward to do battle with the moon...

6 Eightmonth 1351 - Unity of Caelaarn

The man in a working singlesuit and a thermal jacket, both of aristocratic silver, stepped out of the door, letting it slide closed behind him, a wonder that he had become used to over the past many months. He paused and looked up into the early night sky, his breath a pale white fog in the bitter air, although it was but early autumn. Above and below the Selene Ring the handfuls of time-scattered stars glittered faintly. Farther to the north, less than a few score points of light were scattered across the darkness. The same, he knew, was true, far to the south, if well below the horizon he observed.

He needed to hurry. That he felt, and he strode westward, his right arm and hand almost brushing the wall, toward the point overlooking both the ocean and the canal. Even with his long strides, his steps were careful, for patches of thin glazed ice were scattered along the smooth and unmarked blue-gray stone that stretched the entire length of the canal. The ice patches would melt, of course, but stepping on ice floating on the thinnest layer of cold water could cause a nasty fall. He didn't look to the south, which only held the pine barrens and the swamps of the Reserve. Instead, he glanced to his right out across the dark waters. There, the line of white rising above the gray wall marked the north side of the mid-continent canal... and the ice looming beyond.

At the end of the point was a dark-red brick structure, set in the angle between the coast wall and the canal wall, rising no more than five yards above the flat top of the two walls. While the seamless blue-gray stone of the canal walls looked pristine, the bricks were anything but, with the mortar needing repointing almost everywhere. From within the glassine dome above the last circle of bricks, the faceted fresnel lens focused the light from the electric arc into a beam that swept seaward, marking entrance to and the south side of the canal, not that there was nearly so much shipping since Edelburg had been abandoned to the ice two years earlier.

He stopped just short of the lighthouse and waited, ignoring the bite of the bitter breeze on his face and ears, as well as faint whining of the wind turbines along the cliffs farther to the south. Shortly, a faint crack announced that the unnamed glacier that dominated the north side of the canal had calved another white-silvered iceberg. After watching the odd-shaped block of ice fragment and plunge over the canal wall and into the water, he waited until the silent tsunami raced across the four kays between its impact and where he stood. The mass of dark water surged up the gray eternal stone, if only ascending half the height of the canal wall, sending spray skyward. The waters crashed back downward, foaming in places. The ice-mist rose in turn, condensing into fine frozen droplets before settling on the stone that comprised everything from the protective chest-high wall to the canal itself and the ancient station structure, and adding more to the intermittent ice-melt patches. He could see the tiny points of ice settling on the silversheen fabric of his jacket, then sliding off.

Before long, he saw the water from the smaller rebound wave break on the north wall of the canal, loosening a few more fragments of overhanging ice.

He waited, wondering if he would sense more, but he was alone with the wind, the cold, and the arc-light reflected down on him and the blue-gray stone from the glassine dome. In time, he turned his careful steps back toward the ancient station structure he euphemistically called his manor house, not that it was his, or even anything close to a manor house or a house at all. In size, large as it was, it was nothing compared to what had been crushed by the advancing ice a generation earlier and three hundred kays to the northeast. He still held lands and rent-holds to the south, purchased cheaply enough when the ground had been marginal grasslands, if that, lands that now provided an adequate income, with the slight increase in rainfall that had come with the ice to the north of the canal, and his prudent investment in a range of fibreworms, some of which had doubtless produced the threads of the silversheen jacket he wore.

Yet... so little compared to what great-grandsire had enjoyed, but times and climates change. His lips curled. So must you.

When he reached the position of the door facing the canal, not that there was any sign of an opening, he reached out and barely touched the unmarked surface, neither warm nor cold to his fingertips, and the stone slid into itself to form the doorway. Tiny icy pellets followed him inside, clicking on the smooth stone of the floor and the Voharan carpet that covered most of the floor of the chamber they called the study, before the wall reformed, leaving no sign that there had been an opening there.

"Maertyn... why do you always go down to the lighthouse when a berg breaks loose? It was a berg, wasn't it?" Maarlyna asked, looking up from the ancient armchair that had once graced the estate at Norlaak.

Before answering, Maertyn smiled fondly at his wife, taking in her clear skin, her amber hair and eyes, once more silently grateful that things with her had turned out so well as they had. So much could have gone wrong, so much of which she was unaware. "You know it was. You know more than you ever tell me."

She shook her head, the corners of her narrow lips turning up just fractionally in the expression of amusement he always enjoyed.

He'd tried to explain when he'd first become aware of the feelings, the sense that the eternal seamless stone of the canal talked to him somewhere in the recesses of his mind. Maarlyna had smiled indulgently then, nodded, and said, "You must be hearing ultrasonics or the like."
He'd just shrugged. Letting her think that was better than having her think he was not quite right in his mind. And yet... she hadn't been exactly skeptical... more likely amused in some strange way, as she was now, but he was still wary about questioning her in any way that might spur unnecessary introspection. Perhaps... in time.

"How long will they keep you here?" she asked, as if she did not already know.

"You don't mind the isolation that much, do you?" He smiled at the game.

"No. You know that. I'm not looking forward to leaving."

"I told the Ministry that a complete study would take three years."

"At least, that will give us another year and a half."

"A year and five months," he said with a light laugh, "unless we wish to remain and devote ourselves completely to maintaining the lighthouse."

"They really don't need a lighthouse keeper, either. There's not that much shipping any more."

"There are enough long-haul freighters running between Saenblaed and Xantippe that they won't close the lighthouse in my time."

"They could mechanize it completely."

"When you consider the overall costs, people are cheaper, and that even includes deputy assistant ministers who are impoverished lords. Mechanization and microthinking devices are saved for places where putting people is infeasible or impossible."

"Like deep current monitoring?"

Maertyn nodded. "Besides, the Ministry finds my observations about the building and the canal wall useful... or perhaps amusing."

"They find your absence from the capital even more valuable."

"Speaking of which, I will need to return next month to make another periodic report to the Ministry."


"Around the twentieth. I'll take the Canal-runner to Daelmar and the tube-train from there to Caelaarn."

"Isn't that when they rotate the Reserve guards?"

"It is, but that's not why I'm picking that time. It was stipulated by Minister Hlaansk some time back. There's also the possibility that I may need the Ministry to approve a request for the additional equipment."

"How long will you be gone? Two weeks?"

"Ten days to three weeks, depending on whatever difficulties arise, and they will...and other matters."

"Are the advocates still sparring over the bones of your grandmother's estate? Trying to revalue the Martian antiquities to demand more taxes? Or is it some other endless legality?"

"They may be, but I haven't heard any more about that, not recently." Unlike a few other complications I can't exactly share with you, dearest.

"What is it, Maertyn? You looked so sad for a moment, there."

"Call it melancholy. There are times when it would have been nice to retreat to Norlaak. I can't help thinking about it, sometimes."

Maarlyna raised her eyebrows.

"I know. I know. It was gone beneath the glaciers before I was born, but I've seen the representations and the paintings. They're real enough, and I can still think about it."

"Representations aren't the same," she pointed out reasonably.

He smiled gently. "It would depend on the representation, I would think. In some ways, aren't we all representations of a mere biologic plan?" And with all the ages of humanity stretching behind them, who knew how much of that plan was evolutionary and how much genetically planned far in the distant past?

"That makes us sound more like pieces in a game of life, created and played according to this or that formula. We're more than that... aren't we?"

He stepped toward the armchair, stopping before it, reaching down, and taking her hands. He guided her to her feet and embraced her, murmuring in her ear, "So much more, especially you, dearest." Closing his eyes, holding her tight to him, he was more alive than ever.

Her arms went around his waist.

Copyright © 2010 by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.


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