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Memory's Blade

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Memory's Blade

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Author: Spencer Ellsworth
Publisher: Publishing, 2018
Series: Starfire (Ellsworth): Book 3

1. A Red Peace
2. Shadow Sun Seven
3. Memory's Blade

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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At the heart of the Dark Zone, a duel for the universe rages.

In an ancient Jorian temple, Jaqi faces John Starfire, the new ruler of the Empire. He has set all the worlds aflame in his quest to destroy humankind. Jaqi has sworn to stop him. Problem is, Jaqi isn't much of a fighter.

Meanwhile, the sun-eating cosmic spiders, the Shir, have moved out of the Dark Zone and are consuming the galaxy. Araskar knows that he must hold them back, but to do that, he has to give himself over to the Resistance, under the command of John Starfire's wife. And she wants him dead more than she wants the stars to live.

If Jaqi and Araskar can fight their way out, they can use a secret at the heart of the Dark Zone to free the galaxy, and end John Starfire's new tyranny. They lose, and every star in the sky will go dark.



A black thread came out of space and touched the sun in the Aria system.

Aria was a wild world, far from Imperial control. Populated by miners on its moon and asteroids, obscure religionists in its one vast desert, and coastal homes for those rich enough to hire private security, it had never been a pleasant place. The single huge continent made for terrible weather. The rocky moons had poor magnetic fields and wouldn't take to terraforming, and the ocean, no matter how often new processing spores were introduced, was too acidic to support water-going sentients. Many wondered why the Jorians, eight thousand years ago, had bothered to terraform Aria in the first place.

But for three billion sentients, Aria's one desert continent, acidic seas, and mining operations were home.

As is so common with home, few noticed that something was different when a dark spot grew on the sun.

Two days before the end, one of the cultists looked up and thought he saw a black spot on the sun. This believer had pushed himself to sojourn in the desert, despite the fact that his people were native water-dwellers, and only by crossing their genes with humans had they been able to make themselves durable enough to live at least part of their lives on land. He was sick, skin cracking, pores bleeding, his tentacles shriveled, but he continued through the desert to test his flagging faith.

Looking up, he saw the black spot on the sun. At first he attributed it to the lack of water, and begged his gods for strength. But after drinking from a spring and eating a few morsels of his meager food, he still saw it.

He returned to his people to tell them that the end was coming - the stars were going out. And they studied their books and referenced their prophecies and decided it was true. They fasted. They prayed. They commended him on his faith, to see what they had been too busy to notice.

They did not inform the territorial authority, who considered them a nuisance.

Had they informed the territorial authority, that minor official would have likely done nothing, filed no report. On the off chance a report was filed, had the report been read by anyone in power, most likely the phenomena would not have been recognized as what it was. By some miracle, had it been recognized for what it was, someone in the territorial authority might have petitioned the Imperial Navy.

But there was no more Imperial Navy. Irithessa was in flames, the Emperor was dead, and John Starfire and the Resistance were hunting out every human they could find. They called it the Red Peace, for the blood spilled. That sort of trouble was what sent people to places like Aria.

The asteroid miners noticed, on the third day by Imperial reckoning. Their manager assumed it was some kind of flare-up, and called the parent company to send a team of solar monitors. This was a stable sun, and there should have been no risk of severe flares or solar destabilization.

One of the asteroid miners shook and muttered prayers and swore they had to leave. She was a grizzled miner from a long-lived species, distrusted by the others for her strange gods and her strange ways. They didn't listen to her - at first. When she refused to work, they locked her in the brig.

On the morning of the fourth day, another black thread crossed the space between the sun and Aria.

The black thread touched down in an algae-thick ocean. It sent ripples of yellow lightning through the sky and black veins through the water.

The storms and subsequent waves destroyed the coasts of the continent. An earthquake swallowed the religious colony, and he who had seen the dark spot on the sun had only a few seconds to ponder this fulfillment of faith before he fell into an abyss.

The center of Aria's one continent bubbled open and vomited darkness and slag. The atmosphere roiled with toxic fumes. No sentient could live on Aria now.

The miners on the asteroid piled into their one node-worthy ship. She who had seen this coming shook and prayed to her forgotten gods, and the others with her did the same.

The only way out was through the system's single faster-than-light node, and that node hung in space just outside Aria's orbit.

With no other choice, the miners flew from the asteroids toward the dead world and the black thread that had come from the sun, praying the devils wouldn't notice one small ship entering the node.

There were only a few hundred of them, thinking of the lives they had back at the company's headquarters, or their home worlds, thinking of mates and children and life.

They reached the node. They punched in their codes, and waited for their node-engines to hum in harmony with the wormhole and waited for the darkness of space to twist and roil and suck them in, and spit them out at the company headquarters in a safe place.

Below them Aria turned red and molten, its clouds superheating and boiling the one massive ocean.

Their ship hummed and the node began to open, slowly, interminably -

And a black thread rose from the planet below and touched their ship.

For just a few moments, they knew.

They heard the gurgle of the ten million eggs that Aria now hosted, the web now spun through what had been a healthy sun, and they felt the hunger, the hunger of the Shir to consume every star, every sentient, every song, and all they could see, looking into that future, was the fierce, consuming hunger, a hunger darker and colder than the emptiest corner of space -

The node caught them, but the black thread held.

Metal screamed, and the atmosphere rushed out, as the opposing forces of pure space and darkness tore the ship apart, and the miners went flying into vacuum, the last sentients in the Aria system to die.

Another black thread spread from the planet.

And another.



It's him.

Standing right in front of me. The ruler of the galaxy. The tyrant and the deliverer. The fella I aim to kill.

I know because I seen the fella on the screens. Seen that sword, right down to the flame symbol of the Resistance carved into the pommel stone, and I have to say, even with the gray in his hair and the wild eyes, and the way he clenches and unclenches his hand on his sword, he's still as handsome as they made him look. A real slab.

The Usurper, to say what folk been calling him around me.

Here, in front of me, is the man who overthrew the Empire, brought peace and justice to the galaxy.

Unless you're a human, and then he threw you in a death camp.

And here we are, two of us, with swords, standing on a bridge, in an ancient abandoned temple, above an abyss, like a scene from some holo.

He doesn't say anything. Just stares at me. For all he's a cross, his face is unique, most likely fixed up surgical. His hand holds tight to the hilt of his sword, like it's been glued there.

If I can run, and get through the field, my pal Scurv Silvershot will make short work of this fellow pretty quick. Swords en't no use against a couple of shard-blasters that always hit their targets.

But no, the controls for the protective field are in this building somewhere. Scurv is locked out till I figure that.

He finally speaks. "You're just some space scab. Why you?"

"Say what?"

"Why does it talk to you?"

"Why does what talk to me?"

He doesn't answer, just clutches his sword hilt.

Must be talking about that thing. The thing what just seemed to touch me and move away. I don't know how to describe it but to say it was all made up of music. And seemed to have my parents' faces. And then had the face of a devil.

Sounds like nonsense, once I think on it. But it's real - it just wasn't a thing you see with eyes. It's gone now, into the depths of this temple, which stretch away far below this bridge I stand on.

"You still don't get it." He shakes his head. "I went through twenty thousand memory crypts on Irithessa looking for this information. I spent whole weeks just trying to find what you fell into."

I don't know what he's speaking about. I know I can't beat him in a fair fight, so I'd better get him outside. Better find the controls for the field keeping Scurv out.

"Why does it talk to you?"

So I run.

He runs after me. He's fast. Soldier fast, kind of runner that trains for this. All I have is desperation, as I round the end of the bridge, run along another walkway that hugs the wall above this big abyss. I just need to split through one of them hallways that runs off to the side, just need to get outside -

You cannot run! You must face him.

The voice throws me off and I nearly go right over the edge. It's my mother's voice.

"Not you again!" I leap over a piece of metal blocking a dusty hallway, run down the hallway. That thing is going and talking to me again, with the voices of my folks!

I bolt down the dusty hallway - and reach a shut steel door with no working pad. It doesn't open when I run right into it. I did get the outside gate to open just with my hand. I try my hand on the scan plate next to the door - but there is none. This door is going to stay closed.

I spin around and face John Starfire. Like an idiot, I grab the sword at my waist, the huge Thuzerian black-bladed sword, and draw it.

I can't think of anything else to do, even though it's a pain just to hold out the heavy thing, and en't no way I'll fight with it.

He stops. "Don't try to fight. Just tell me why it talks to you."

"Why does what talk to - " I break off, because my parents stand behind him.

I know it's fake, but my breath catches in my chest all the same, and the same tears start up from behind my eyes.

There's still a little girl inside me, sure they'll get back from way out in space any day now.

You have to beat him, my parents say.

Well, they don't quite say. It en't quite speech. I can make words out of the impressions, but it feels like music. That crazing music, what Araskar goes on about, the same thing swept through me when I did them "miracles" before. It sounds mad, but there it is - music making meaning out of itself.

The music is what folk call the Starfire, the power that moves through pure space.

And somehow my brain makes it into words, words coming out of my long-dead folks.

You must stop him, the music says. My parents change, blur together. They become that thing, the thing I saw when I got in, what looked like the devil but was also made of music. You must stop him or else he will bond with us, take us for his own.

"Are you..." This can't be true, not a burning thing about it. "Are you the Starfire its own self? You got a voice and you're talking to me? The song of stars, just talking to me?"

The music rushes into my mind with a forceful Yes.

John Starfire stops, hesitates, though he's still holding that sword out like he knows how to use it. "You're speaking to it. How?"

I ignore him and keep speaking to the Starfire itself, which still looks like my parents, but bigger, changing, shifting a thousand colors and sounds, filling me up. "You saying I'm it. I really am this special oogie deliverer of space." Is this it, then? This is all that talk writ down in the Bible, what I can't read, and here I am and despite all my skeptical words, it's coming true? Despite my shaky track record with miracles, it's all true?

John Starfire doesn't respond to that. But the Starfire, the stuff of space itself, does. You are the one I have waited for.

Well, shit.

I was well sure I wasn't no Chosen One. The truth was that everything I've done was just trickery with a node. That en't Chosen business.

Except the Starfire itself just told me I am.

It don't get much more Son of Stars than that.

"You don't want to fight me," John Starfire says.

You must stop him, the music counters.

I set my teeth and try spreading my legs. I'm the Son of Stars, and he en't, then mayhap it don't matter that he's the better swordsman. Mayhap it don't matter that Taltus's sword, this heavy Thuzerian thing made of black metal, is already hurting my arm. Mayhap it don't matter, because if fate chose me, then I can beat him.

And when I think that, my sword breaks into blue flame. I remember what Scurv said - them swords work off faith.

"I can already tell you have no training." He gives me a real charming smile. "We're both crosses. You have to understand that the humans want us to fight. They've manipulated you. Just tell me why it talks to you, and what I need to do to make it talk to me."

Just need to rush him and stick this big old sword through his vitals, and - and this'll be done. Bill, and Quinn, Taltus and all the other dead will be avenged.

"Don't be their puppet. Don't be stupid."

"Not stupid," I say. "I got destiny on my side."

I rush him.

One second he's in front of me; next he's aside, and strikes my sword with such a blow I near drop it, go stumbling, and then I do drop it - I back up against the door and grab it, turn around.

Burning hell, he's quick.

He slashes his hand and the familiar white fire of a cross's soulsword leaps up his blade. He shakes his head. "To think, even I hoped you were more than propaganda."

I pick up my sword and rush him again. Come on, destiny -

This time he just stops me. Doesn't move an inch, knocks me back with the force of his counter-blow. I stumble backward, and my stupid heavy sword drops again, my point screeching on the metal of the floor

Hell! "Come on, fate!" I say, to whatever's out there. "You even listening?"

He comes toward me now. "I see I have to make you bleed to make you understand," he says. "That's fine. Good, even."

And now he really fights me. And I'm scrambling backward, trying to stay away, because that sword is like a snake about to strike, and I been in some scraps but no one, not even Araskar, moves this quick, this liquid-fast, and suddenly I'm backed up against this closed door and his soulsword knocks mine aside -

He slashes my arm.

Fire shoots through my veins. My sight goes red. I sink to my knees.

Feels like he's ripping tendons out from the inside. But the tendons are my memories, and he yanks on my image of my mater and pater, and suddenly it's like the memory is tumbling away from me - I can't recall their faces, and I grab for their faces, and -

"Like I thought, just some scab." He kicks me, and I slam back into the closed door, and my wounded arm won't clutch the soulsword right anymore, so it falls. The blue flame vanishes. "And one who believes every word the humans say."

The music cries and screeches off in the distance.

He knocks me down again, too fast. His soulsword goes right through my leg, pins me to the floor.

He rips those memories apart.

My mater and pater, and Bill's, and waiting there in the darkness for my parents to come back, and then taking odd jobs until I done found the kids - and that gray girl and Bill dies and the kids talking about their memory crypt, Araskar and Trace and the Engineer and Shadow Sun Seven and Scurv - soon as I think these memories, they tear away from me, go spinning like flotsam. They've all come unmoored.

I think I hear my mother singing, but I can't make out the words. It's all white noise.

The Usurper won.

Copyright © 2018 by Spencer Ellsworth


Memory's Blade

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