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Pieces, Part One

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Clouds covered the stars and the new moon. It was far too dark a night even for the two fox spirits to be awake, but neither could sleep after what they'd heard had happened. Saroush sat on the ground, his tails curled around his haunches. His posture might've deceived Behrouz into thinking he was calm, but the other spirit could see the tension throughout his body.

Behrouz, for his part, was pacing back and forth, hackles raised. The way he was going, he would be wearing a trail through the grass before long. "I can't believe she actually did it," he said, not for the first time that night.

"I know," Saroush answered. His voice was carefully neutral.

"I mean, how incompetent do the guards have to be? They let in a couple random acitan and stand there while they eat the Pharaoh!"

"Behrouz!" He stopped pacing and looked at Saroush. "Breathe. Calm your mind. Getting angry won't change what happened." Behrouz nearly snapped that he could tell Saroush was just hiding it better–but he didn't. Saroush was right; he couldn't let anger cloud his thoughts.

Behrouz sat down across from Saroush and closed his eyes for a few moments, taking deep breaths. For several long moments, no one spoke. Finally, Behrouz said, "The government will use this against us. They'll see the heretics' hands in this." His voice crackled with anger–but it was suppressed anger.

"And they'll see us as no different, no doubt. I don't think many of the people here ever really have, not yet. We're going to have to change how we work."

"We can't just flee to Aksum!" It couldn't end like this. When they'd fled Mesopotamia, they'd only been able to justify their flight by telling themselves Kemet needed their spiritual guidance as much as the heretics did.

The Republic of Aksum didn't. They didn't follow Ahura Mazda or practice nonviolence, but they were at least on the right side of things. Not unlike what they'd heard of the acitan, though Behrouz now found himself wondering what the truth was.

"No. I was thinking that we should reach out to the Nubians. I'm sure they could use our aid, and guidance."

"Had hoped to avoid getting involved in a war when we fled here. We can't fight." None of Mazdak's disciples could. It was why the Sassanids had found it so easy to drive them out… and why they had.

"But we can hide the innocent, and misdirect those who'd hurt them. And we can heal them." Behrouz found himself nodding.

"I know someone who's in the NLF. He doesn't know I know, but he knows me. We can meet him tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," Saroush echoed.

Pob's Tail shuddered as it began the slow ascent from Socotra out of the atmosphere. It wasn't a large craft, only suitable for a single small group–sixty kraqrelk, with a few cold wanderers hibernating in the cargo hold. But the crew was tightly bound; they could handle isolation from their families.

That a few were related didn't hurt.

The treeship was wood, with transparent, slightly iridescent bubbles emerging from among the trunks of giant trees fused together in a rough sphere. Pods holding spatial warping arrays, weapons, and sensors studded the branches. There were no engines–warping space was more than enough to move them with great speed and agility.

Most treeship were larger, but the base Pob's Tail was supplying was tiny. Socotra belonged to Gar-Atuong Okranu by treaty, but that treaty would be null and void if Socotra decided to secede. Everyone involved knew that. Easier if the base was just large enough to act as a repair and supply yard for spaceships.

There was a crackle as the public address system switched on. "Warrust-Rynelk Ngal Intelligence has just sent us a message. The Trewab have stated that they're formally supporting the Kemetics and have threatened 'extreme consequences' if we directly aid the Southern Basin. It's likely we'll have to renegotiate the contract."

A chill spread through the crew. No one was too surprised: The United Trewab Empire had been indirectly supporting empires across the planet ever since the Seventy-Seven Jeweled Anklets became less active in the system, and with the acitan back things would be dire for their client states. Of course they'd seek to keep the Jeweled Anklets out of the conflict.

Still. The news was bad. One of the reasons they'd been contracted to supply the Socotra outpost was so that it could act as a deterrent to anyone invading the Southern Basin or the Republic of Aksum. With the threats from the United Trewab Empire, they could only act against pirates or Sassanids.

And the Trewab would be letting all their client states know that.
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