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The Cyn had arrived on Odessa shortly after the Preacher had fled with me in tow; he'd butchered his way through her former colleagues—a massacre she hadn't known about until we'd returned from our confrontation with the Cyn, and told her what had happened just after she'd exiled herself. She couldn't take a Cyn on directly—their ability to manipulate energy meant destroying the fusion core in her chest would be as simple as thought to them—but given the anger that constantly threaded through her voice at the mention of the Cyn, that was probably a good thing...for the Cyn, at least.

"In league with him or not, they're still selling snake oil to poor pulsed worlds that don't know any better," Sahluk grunted. He'd been born into the Justified, and spent most of his life on Sanctum—he tended to view pulsed worlds as blighted, benighted war zones, because if he set foot on one, that's likely what it was: somewhere harboring the enemies of the Justified, enemies he'd been sent to root out. As a result, the Bright Wanderers' recruitment spiel—"Join our cult, and we'll deliver you from the pulse forever"—sat especially poorly with him: it seemed like grifters running cons on those who already had nothing left to lose.

As someone who'd grown up on a pulsed world, though, I knew there was always more to lose. "Not if they can deliver," I reminded him. The Cyn could eat pulse radiation—we'd seen one do so, and there was no reason to believe he was some sort of anomaly. They couldn't do it on the scale the Wanderers were promising, but it still wasn't as though the cultists had pulled the idea from thin air.

"You know they can't," JackDoes said to me, his words coming out in a hiss—he didn't mean it as an insult; the way his mouth was shaped just made everything sound that way.

I shrugged. "I know that if somebody landed on my world, offered to get me away from the violence and the pulse both at the same time, I maybe wouldn't look too hard at what sort of conditions were attached. Given that's how I met Jane—and how Sho joined the Justified, as well—I would say it makes a certain amount of sense, people buying into the Wanderers' line."

"All the more reason to stamp it out," Sahluk answered with gravelly surety. "Not our mission," the Preacher reminded him. "Our mission is the Cyn." He shifted uncomfortably—his age meant Sahluk had been Justified since before the pulse, back when the Justified stood for something more than "trying to stop the pulse from returning." He still 'thought' like what the sect had been back then—peacekeepers, soldiers, police. Jane and Marus and Javier, all of whom had operated outside the limits of Sanctum for most of the past century, had grown accustomed to the notion that the galaxy was a crueler place than that, had the notion that trying to help everyone just got you killed, but that way of thinking was still alien to the Mahren: as far as he was concerned, the Justified did right, and what the Bright Wanderers were doing...there were a lot of words for it, but "right" wasn't among them.

"In that case, we're in luck," Marus said, turning away from his own screens to face us. Like every time he looked at me, I felt a twinge of sick guilt at the ruin the Cyn had made of his face: the lunatic had taken his eyes as he screamed, while I was lying on the floor just feet away, helpless to do anything but watch. Marus had been given mechanical implants at Sanctum, of course, but they weren't him, stood out from his green face like metal lesions, and they meant he could never descend to a heavily pulsed world again—the rads would melt them right inside his head.

He'd never given me a reason to feel guilty, of course—he'd dealt with the injury with typical Marus stoicism—and now those eyes turned toward his apprentice, who was grinning up at him, revealing teeth just as black as everything else about her, from skin to hair to irises. Marus smiled back, and gave her a nod. "Meridian managed to crack the station's own scan logs," he said, "and reverse engineer the data locks on the radiation telescopes, searching for different patterns than it ordinarily flags. She's reading Cyn energy signatures; the same ones our ships picked up from Odessa. The Bright Wanderers aren't just serving the Cyn—there's one on board their vessel. We've found what we're looking for."


CHAPTER THREE
Esa

One of the niftiest inventions of the Golden Age? Entropically null store-rooms, the sort of thing where you could stick, say, noncomplex food-stuffs, seal them up, and have them come out exactly the same several hundred years later. One of the less nifty failures of inventions from the Golden Age? Not building their goddamned service robots to be reprogrammable—or, at least, not by us.

We were on an open-ended mission, which meant "catch as catch can" where supplies went, and Jane was thrifty enough that she wasn't going to overlook the protein-and-carbohydrate nutrients (the sort of stuff Sho called, disparagingly, "food-drink") the observatory's long-dead masters had left behind in their storerooms. We had the Bright Wanderers' vector, and from the information Marus and Meridian had turned up, it looked like it was their final destination: apparently they'd been using the observatory as a kind of stopover point from their various "recruitment drives" before heading to...wherever the hell cultists who worshipped insane Cyn laid their heads.

There wasn't anything to glean about the cultists themselves onboard the observatory—they'd left surprisingly little sign of their passage—but there was the station itself to ransack. We were in no real hurry—in fact, a bit of a wait was probably advisable, to let our quarry think their trap had killed us off—which meant Jane had decided it was time to raid the observatory's storerooms.

Which meant Sho, Meridian, and I got to engage in good old-fashioned manual labor, all because we couldn't figure out how to reprogram the goddamned machines that had been built to do exactly this sort of thing.


This excerpt ends on page 21 of the paperback edition.

Monday, June 1st, we begin the book A Pale Light in the Black by K. B. Wagers.
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