The Silence of Sound, by Mike Brooks

I can’t stay long at the Sea Palace. I have little enough funds, despite having taken a couple of reading jobs. Still, it’s good to have a bed and a door that locks after fleeing the Amber City, so I sit on the deck, eating lightly fried, gently spiced seaweed, feeling the warmth of the rising sun on my skin.

This was a leisure ship, once; a mighty, ocean-going vessel. It doesn’t seem possible we could have built something on this scale, much less that it could have floated. It feels far more at home wrecked on the southern Sunrise Sands than it could ever have been riding the waves, even though it was surely never intended to end up here. Perhaps the onboard systems failed, perhaps the positioning satellites went down at the wrong moment, perhaps it was boarded by pirates and deliberately wrecked.

The Faith Wars left very little untouched. I know that better than most, despite not being born when they ended.

So here the Sea Palace sits, its belly torn out and yet somehow mostly level. The tides surge up and down the shore, and its nethers fill and empty again, leaving pools in which lurk stranded, multi-legged creatures or the occasional confused fish. Seaweed and cone-shells have colonised the lower hull. At low tide, people venture out to collect whatever bounty the sea provides.

And, of course, some people leave and others arrive. There are few permanent residents. Everything here is subject to the Salt Queen, and she charges a high price for cabins, or for trading in her domain.

The person next to me leaves, and is replaced by another. It’s low tide; maybe a new arrival, looking for a meal after the slippery trek across the rocks to get here, and then either the long, dark climb inside, or paying the pulleyers to be hauled up past the hull.

“L̴̡̛̕͞ǫ́v̢͠é̸̴̛͘ļ́y̵͠͡ ̧́͘v̴͏̛͏͜i͡͏e͏̡̀͢͠w͏͠,̶̴͘͠ ̛͢i̶͞҉͠s҉͟͢͡ń̡͠’̧̕t́ ̡͠í̷̛t̢̧?̢͘”

I chew another forkful of seaweed, enjoying the flavour. Everything around me is the very faintest buzz.

“H̵̵ȩ̀́ĺ̷͏̸l͘̕͝͏o̴͠?̸̷̢́͟”

I frown, glance sideways. The person sitting there is facing me. I could ignore them, but that might attract more attention than I want, if they make a scene. So I turn in my seat, false smile in place, ready to insincerely apologise for who I am.

“Sorry, I–”

Shit.

Whip thin, even under the travel-stained long coat. An equally-battered, wide-brimmed hat is pulled down to shade their eyes. I can see one side of their scalp is shaved, although it’s growing out into fuzz, while a multitude of long, dark pleats trail from the other. A water bottle on their belt, a spyglass in their breast pocket, and the sturdy pack at their feet suggests they’re probably not a local.

The stock of a firearm – probably a shotgun – protrudes from the pack, and one of their hands rests on it, but it’s not this that’s given me pause.

It’s the tattoo of a book on their neck, just above the coat’s collar.

Librarian.

There’s only one reason a librarian would have travelled here, miles from any library, and be talking to me. Well, technically there are three reasons, each as bad as the next.

They’ve seen my reaction. I’m already betrayed by my own guilt. I focus on their lips as they speak.

“Tallah̴an ̵of͏ H́al̶lo̷w̕s ͏T͏re͢e?”

I nod. I know the shape of my own name, and there’s little point denying it. They open their mouth again and I hold up a hand, adopt a placating, pleading expression.

“One moment? Let me put my ears in.”

I reach for the small, watertight container hanging from my neck; slowly, so they don’t pull the gun. I remove two tiny, cylindrical objects which I click on, then place in my ears, somewhat regretfully. It took two weeks’ work to buy my current stock of batteries. There’s not much demand for them, but they’re not easy to find, and the price skyrockets if someone realises you need them.

The world explodes into my ears; wind noise, seabird calls, crashing waves, and the hubbub of innumerable conversations from the deck market. I try not to wince. I resent the invasion of my head, but it’s better than getting shot because you misunderstood someone.

“Sorry,” I say. My voice no longer reverberates in my own skull, and is lost in the wind. “You were saying?”

“Tallahan of Hallows Tree?” the librarian repeats, over-enunciating the words. I try not to roll my eyes.

“Yes. Look, you don’t need to . . .” I point at my ears. “That’s what they’re for.”

Their face doesn’t so much as twitch. A cold one.

“You’ve got books overdue.”

I raise my eyebrows. “Is that so?”

“Three separate warrants, from three separate cities.” They reach into their coat and produce engraved metal plates that fit into the palm of their hand. One bears the emblem of Amber City, one of Hillside, and one of Hallows Tree, where this all started.

I pull a face. “I’m popular.”

“Quite the opposite.”

I pick up my bowl and hold the fork casually, as though about to take another mouthful. They’re poor weapons, but I might have to improvise. “What’s the fine?”

“Out of my hands. The priests have taken a personal interest.”

That sends a cold shiver through me. “The priests?”

“You can’t steal–”

“Borrow.”

“–steal three sacred texts of The One Who Is Many and expect to just pay a fine, even if you are a Reader.” Their eyes narrow. “Especially if you’re a Reader. What were you thinking?”

And there it is, the spark of curiosity. All librarians have it. It’s what makes them such devoted servants of the written word. After the Faith Wars, after the Dayter Bomb, it was librarians who began piecing our knowledge back together. They always want to know more, they’re always asking questions. Sometimes with a wider scope than “where’s that damn book you had, Tallahan?”

I scrape up the last of my seaweed, the tines of the fork on the bowl’s rough surface adding a new veneer to the soundscape around me, then stuff the twirled-up greenery into my mouth and put the bowl and fork down.

“I can show you,” I say, around my mouthful.

“You can sit right there,” the librarian replies, their fingers tightening on their gun. It would cause commotion if they pulled it on me here, but they’re far from the only one armed in the market, and no one would pay much mind once it became clear their business was with me alone.

“The books are in my cabin,” I tell them, honestly. “Why don’t we go find them? Then I can show you.”

They look me over. It’s pretty clear I don’t have the books on me, or any possessions I’d have needed to get here from anywhere else worth the name.

They shrug. “Fine. I hope you’re not going to try something.”

“I’d be a fool,” I say, standing. It’s not far from the truth. Any librarian in pursuit of overdues is combat-trained. I’d have to be very quick, and very lucky. As a Reader, I was never trained to deal with anything more dangerous than bad grammar or obscure, archaic slang.

I lead the way to the aft stairs. I have a lower cabin; all I could afford. I pull out and flick on my wind-up lamp as we enter the stairwell. The Sea Palace does still have some power, astonishingly, but the Salt Queen doesn’t expend it on anything so trivial as internal lighting.

Down we go, deck by deck. The ship’s slight tilt seems more pronounced in the half-gloom, perhaps because you can no longer see the sky. With one frame of reference gone, the mind focuses on whatever’s left.

 “How ̧m̕u͟c̀h͢ ͟far҉th̢er̵?”

Even with my boosters in, I miss some words. The librarian’s behind me; I can’t see their lips. I take a guess.

“Not far,” I say, looking around to see if their reaction suggests I got it right. It appears I did. “Next one down.”

I count doors, slip the key into the lock. It opens onto natural light: not the sun, since we’re on the western side, but the beach and grassy hills beyond illuminated by its rays.

None of the Sea Palace’s cabins are small, which is why everything here costs so much. There’s a certain odour in the air. Salt water isn’t ideal for washing clothes, particularly those soiled by travel, and there’s precious little fresh water here that isn’t sold at an exorbitant price for drinking.

The librarian wrinkles their nose, although I doubt they smell much better. “Well?”

“You’ll want to shut the door,” I say, heading for my pack. They hesitate, but then there’s a click as they take my advice. My boosters pick up a faint whisper, and I look around to see the shotgun pointing at me.

“I thought you were bringing me in,” I protest, panic grabbing my throat and making my voice squeak.

“That’s my intention,” the librarian says. “But I don’t know what you’ve got in that pack, so go slowly in case I get nervous.”

I do have a gun in there, but I wasn’t going to go for it unless I was a lot more sure of being successful. Doubly so, now.

I reach in slowly, and pull out three large books. They each had different titles once, but each was overbranded by the mark of the Unity. These are what ended the Faith Wars, when the Unity brought forth the Truth of The One Who Is Many to finally, finally end the killing and the destruction.

And it’s all a giant fucking lie. All you need to realise that is be broken a bit. Or, as I’ve now done, break the texts.

The librarian’s face fills with horror as I show them the books, place them on the bed.

“What have you done?

“Removed the sounders,” I tell them, eyeing the shotgun warily. The speakers are built into the covers. When you open a sacred text, the speakers play you the sacred music, to open your spirit to the holy words. I first heard the sound as a child, still learning my craft. I heard it all through my youth as I bathed in the glory of The One Who Is Many, reading alone at home, and reading to others to whom the written word was a mystery.

But one day in Hallows Tree, short of money and without batteries for my boosters, I opened my sacred text and read the words. Just the words. The music reached my ears as little more than scratchy whispering, the sort of sound I’d imagine ants to make if plotting to overthrow their queen.

It hadn’t said what I’d remembered it saying.

“That’s sacrilege,” the librarian says. Their voice wavers, choked with emotion. I don’t need my boosters to read their expression and body language.

I gesture at the books. “Read them.”

The librarian shakes their head. “I don’t have time for this.”

I sigh. “Of course you do. You want to know why I risked having someone like you sent after me? You want to know why I stole three sacred texts from three different libraries?” I pointed at the books. “Read them.”

I’ve caught the librarian’s curiosity, but they narrow their eyes at me, wary of being taken in. “Why? They all say the same thing.”

I shake my head, but I don’t take my eye off their trigger finger. “Actually . . . they don’t.”

That’s the point of the Unity, of course. They stopped the Faith Wars by revealing what no one had somehow ever realised before: all different faiths were just aspects of the one Truth, they all held the same central tenets, the same crucial beliefs. The One Who Is Many was All, and everyone already worshipped The One Who Is Many equally, and correctly. When people opened and read their sacred texts as revealed by the Unity, or had those texts read to them by people like me with the sacred music playing, they understood that.

Slowly, the war ended.

The librarian glowers at me, but that curiosity is too strong. They cross to the bed and, keeping the shotgun trained on me with one hand, open one of the books at random.

Their face twitches when the expected gush of sacred music doesn’t come, and they look up at me with something bordering on hatred, but then they return to reading. After a few seconds, faint lines appear on their brow.

I say nothing. This is the first time I’ve shown another person what I’ve found. I don’t know how they’re going to take it.

The librarian continues, their eyes narrowing, flicking back and forth as they read faster and faster. Their mouth twists.

They slam the book shut and turn towards me, both hands on their gun, the passive threat now a very active one.

“You’ve changed it!”

I raise my hands, trying to look unthreatening. “Try the next one,” I suggest. “Maybe it’ll seem more familiar.”

The librarian glowers, but their curiosity is a burning hook in their soul. It pulls them back. They open the first book, find the page they’d been reading, then open the next text at the corresponding page.

It takes only a few seconds of scanning the page with wide eyes before they slam that one shut too, and turn on me again.

“That’s nothing like the other one!”

I nod. I remember this confusion, this pain. “I know. I couldn’t believe it either.”

The librarian advances on me, shotgun aimed squarely at my chest, biting out words between their teeth. “What. Have. You. Done?

“I stole the first book from Hallows Tree library to compare with my own,” I tell them, hoping I can make the truth sound convincing. “It didn’t match, not without my boosters in. So I went to Hillside and stole one there, and that was nothing like either of them. So I went to the Amber City, and stole another one. Guess what? Different again.”

The librarian shakes their head, trying to comprehend it. “This is madness.”

“It’s the sounders,” I tell them, as gently as I can. “That’s the only way it makes sense. It’s the sacred music, somehow. Can you remember a single passage from a sacred text when it’s not in front of you?”

The librarian shakes their head. “Of course not. It’s the word of The One Who Is Many, no mind can recall it unaided.”

“It’s tricks,” I tell them sadly. “It’s all just a trick.”

“No.”

“They worked out how to manipulate how we think, using certain frequencies–”

“No!”

“–and they used that to make all the different faiths think they were actually the same faith–”

No!

“–and they used that to stop the Faith Wars!” I finish at a shout. My chest is heaving, more than it should be. This has been gnawing at me for months, and now I’ve exposed it all to someone I met ten minutes ago, who’s been holding a gun on me for about half of that.

I think I can be excused for being a little highly-strung.

“Well, so what?” the librarian demands desperately. There’s a wild look in their eyes, the look of someone who asks questions and has found an answer they really, really don’t like. “The Faith Wars were killing us all! They needed to be stopped! Do you want to start that up again?”

“No!” I snap. “That’s why I ran away; I didn’t know what to do! I didn’t set out to discover truth! I just read a book!”

The librarian’s face shifts, emotions flashing over it like summer lightning. They’re a far cry from the distant, professional hunter who cornered me at the seaweed bar only a few minutes before. It’s hard to tell whether they’re going to burst into tears, or shoot me.

It occurs to me that those two options aren’t mutually exclusive. It isn’t particularly comforting.

But librarians are well-trained. After a few seconds of visible distress they get themself under control. A shaky, shuddering inhalation through the nose later, and the mask of their former demeanour reforms.

“Bring your pack here,” they say. “I’m going to search it, and then we’re going to the Amber City.”

My mouth dries. I’m not sure exactly what I’d been hoping for from this encounter, but this certainly wasn’t it. “But I showed you—”

“Theology isn’t my concern,” the librarian says, a little too quickly. “Books are. You stole three books. I need to bring you in for that.”

I spread my hands. “The Unity will kill me.”

“You don’t know that.”

“They’ll kill me,” I tell them. “And when they see what I’ve done, when they realise you must have seen the texts too, they’ll kill you.”

The corner of the librarian’s left eye twitches, but that’s all. “Bring your pack here.”

I shake my head and cross the cabin floor to get my pack. My heart is hammering and my palms are suddenly sweaty, because I know my only option is to pull my gun in the few seconds before they’d discover it. I have absolutely no doubt what the Unity will do, once they realise what I know. What price one life to safeguard a lie that brought peace?

Between one step and another, the air turns solid with noise.

I snatch the boosters out of my ears and flick them off with practiced thumb motions. I can still feel the sound, buzzing up through my legs and chasing around my gut, shaking the very air in my lungs. It’s still intrusive, but no longer stunning.

The librarian has raised both hands to their ears, trying vainly to shut the noise out. The shotgun is pointed at the ceiling. I cup both my boosters into one hand, count the steps to my pack. If I can get to my gun…

As suddenly as it started, the sound dies. The librarian lowers their weapon, covering me again. My window of opportunity has slammed shut.

“W̴͢h҉a͟t́ ̕͟t͏h̴͝e̸͡ ̀fuc̨̀k̕̕ ͞҉ẁas͏ ̴t̀h̡at̨̛͡?͞!̡͜͠” they shout. I can read their lips well enough, and the context makes it fairly obvious.

That’s the horn,” I tell them. My voice fills my own head again. “The Salt Queen sounds it if enemies are sighted.”

“Ȩ̢͠ņ̨͢͠e̶̕̕͢͞m̵̢̧͟i̡͜͡͝͏e͡͏̨͞s͘?̵͏̴̧”

I’m not looking at them any longer. I scramble for the porthole, clambering over the bed and heedless of whatever the librarian might be saying. I have an awful, awful feeling that I know what manner of enemy this will be. The tide is too low for pirates, and the horse lords would never take their mounts into the Sea Palace, nor leave them outside.

My cabin’s porthole provides enough visibility to see that the threat comes not from the land nor the sea, but the sky.

Three glinting specks, approaching fast out of the clear blue. I round on the librarian, and the fury in my face must be showing because they suddenly look uncertain, despite the fact they have a weapon and I’m currently unarmed.

“Angels?!” I demand incredulously. “You led angels to me?”

We used to fly, of course. I’ve found mention of flying machines in books, although I didn’t understand most of the concepts the authors seemed to take for granted. Even so, it was clear that in the days before the Dayter Bomb we’d sailed the skies nearly as easily as the seas.

Since before the end of the Faith Wars, however, no one flies except the Angels.

“Á̡͡n͘ge͘ļ͠ş͝?̕͞!̷͠ ̷͞Co͜m̷i͜͟ń̨͡g̡ ̶̢h͠ȩ̡̛r҉̶e?̧”

The look of shock on the librarian’s face tells me they’re innocent. I should have guessed. There are certainly some common themes in the holy books, and one of them is angels being sent to punish. You’d be a fool to call that down on yourself. But the angels can’t have just followed the librarian here, or why would they only move in now? Unless . . .

Inspiration dawns, bright and terrifying. “The warrants! Ditch the warrants!”

I turn to grab my pack, wondering if I’m going to feel the red hot pain of a shotgun blast in my back.

“Í̡s̛͘ ̨t͢͞h͘͢͠i̡͝ş̡̀͏ ̸̡̧a̢͡͡ ̴̛͡t҉͠ŗ͟͝i̷̵̵̶̴c͘͘k͝͝?҉̡͢”

I pick my pack up, turn back to the bed, grab the books and shove them inside. Foolish or not, I intend to keep them with me. I look at the librarian and focus on their lips.

“What?”

Their face is a picture of indecision. “A̢r̷e y̡o͏u̡ ̸t̶ŗyi̸ng͞ tó ţric̷k ̵m̧e?͘ T̡ho͏se҉ ̛wa͡r͘r̵a͘nts̢–͢”

I shrug desperately. My main concern right now is preventing the angels from being led straight to me. “Do you want to take the risk?”

I don’t know how they would have answered. Their face twists in fear and horror, and the shotgun’s muzzle moves from me towards the porthole as the light in the cabin dims.

I look around. Figures cluster around the porthole, holding position in the air. The details are lost in shadow, but there’s no mistaking the shape of the horned head that leans in close to the glass.

The angels have found us.

The librarian is frozen in shock. My own bowels turn to water as, on the other side of the glass, a fist draws back. This was my worst-case scenario.

However, it is a scenario. I’d considered the possibility, and so I have a plan. A stupid plan, perhaps, but a plan nonetheless.

I draw my gun, and shoot the porthole.

It’s only a simple handgun, a revolving chamber carrying eight bullets, but it’s enough to shatter the glass and strike the angel about to smash it from the outside. That figure drops out of sight.

The angels scream.

Even I can hear it, a tearing, knife-edged sound, jagged and bone-twisting. I grab the stricken librarian and bundle them out of the door, slam it shut behind us. The sound cuts off; for me, at least. The librarian staggers in the darkness, still suffering from the effect of the screams, but I have no time to check on them. I reach into the inside pocket of their coat and my fingers close on the cool metal plates of the warrants. I drag them out and hurl them down the corridor, then turn and flee towards the stairs, dragging the librarian behind me.

“W͝͠h͘͠͏é̶͞͝ŗ̴̡͢҉e͢͏̨͟ ́́҉̸̴à̕r̨̀͘͘͜e̵͢͞ ̛̛͟w̢̛҉e͏͢ ̶̨́͜͢g̶̢̢̛ơ͟͜͡i͏̵̡ņ̸̸͠g̨͜?̨̧̀͡͏”

“Can’t hear you!”

We crash through the double doors and I pull them towards the stairwell. Perhaps we can find our way down into where the engines were. The notion of being in an enclosed space with angels is terrifying, but possibly better than being on the deck, or on open ground. If there’s no room for them to fly, one of their major advantages over us is removed.

The librarian resists, and I tug harder. “Come on, we need–”

The world spins, and the floor comes up to hit me in the back. Air leaves my lungs involuntarily. My gun is plucked from my hand before I can register what’s happening, and the librarian bends over me, their braids trailing along my cheek.

“Y̷ou’͡r̛e҉ go̢i͠ng̷ t̡o͏ ̴g̨ęt ̀m͠e ͝kille̶d. ̛Stan͘d҉ up̕!͘”

I don’t get a chance to protest, or even to move under my own power. They haul me upright, the power in their frame belying their wiry build. I’m winded, and can do little to resist as I’m turned to face back the way we’ve just come, the barrel of my own gun levelled at my temple.

The cabin door is wrenched open and light spills out into the dark corridor, followed by two bipedal shapes. They veer the other way, and for a moment my heart lifts. They must be distracted by the tracker hidden in the warrants. Perhaps if I–

“Hey͢!̶”

Oh no.

The angels whirl, attracted by the librarian’s shout. Sunlight reflects off silver and gold as they pass the cabin door again. I struggle, trying to get away, but the librarian knows the tricks to make a human body stay where they want it to, and holds me firm.

The angels push through the double doors, metal claws wrapping briefly around the wood and glass. Their human bodies are entirely enclosed within plates and knife-sharp ridges, their wings are now folded tight against their backs, and where their faces should be there are only golden masks, sculpts of beautiful features twisted into visages of open-mouthed rage. On each side of their faces are small speaker grilles. Rising from atop their heads are their horns, slightly curved, and sharp enough to cut the dawn.

“Th͟er͘è ͝are͠ ̷wa̸rr͜ant͟s ͡out͡ f͞o̴r ̀th̵is͠ pe͡r͜son͡’s ̀o͝ve̵rd̶ue b̶ook̶s̷,̷” the librarian says, their voice barely shaking. “I a͠m͜ t̵o ŗe͏turņ ̡t́h̶e͞m to̧ the͠ A̛m̵b́e̢r–͞”

The angels’ wings snap out, twin fans of stiff blades, and whatever secret technology allows them to fly lifts them gently into the air.

“W͘ai͜t҉, ͠I̴–”

The angels scream, and fly at us with claws outstretched.

The librarian goes rigid, muscles stiffening involuntarily as the angels’ cry does its work. I drag them down onto what was once plush carpet and is now a stained, sand-logged mess, and the angels’ talons slash through where we’d just been standing as they pass overhead.

The librarian clamps their hands to their ears and curls up, desperately trying to protect themself from the noise, and drops my gun. I grab it from the floor, force myself to my feet, raise it. The angels’ screams are painful even to me, but they’re a stone in my shoe, not a knife in my groin. I’m desperately hoping they don’t realise this until it’s too late. It’s my only chance.

The angels bank almost lazily around the stairs. They’re expecting their prey to be paralysed, must have presumed we just collapsed rather than dodged. I aim at the nearest, squeeze the trigger. The gun bucks in my hand, its bark forming a rough undercurrent to their terrible cries.

I miss. I’m a reader, not a soldier. I just drew their attention to the fact I’m on my feet and functioning.

The one I shot at leans harder into its turn. I adjust my aim, fire again. A spray of sparks erupts from the angel’s back and it drops to the floor, limbs flailing. The Unity’s magic is no match for a lucky shot, it seems.

The other angel accelerates, hugging the wall, wide but fast. And predictable: I turn towards it, keep firing, punching holes in the wall, but then it’s heading straight for me. One shot spangs off a pauldron, and the impact knocks it slightly off-course.

The next shot, which would have otherwise probably whistled harmlessly over it, takes it straight in the forehead.

I dive to one side. The angel’s momentum carries it crashing to the floor where I was standing a moment ago. It doesn’t move, its speakers now silent. I scramble up again, my gun tracking towards the other angel. It can’t fly anymore, but it’s on its feet and running at me. The scream sounds different; perhaps its landing damaged the speakers.

I pull the trigger, but my gun is empty. I have reloads in my pack. They might as well be on the moon.

The angel lashes out at my face. I stumble backwards, raise my arm to block it. The claws shred my jacket and bicep, red-hot trails of rage across my flesh. I cry out in pain, fall over the dead angel, land hard, throw my gun at the angel’s head in desperation. It misses.

The angel grabs my right shoulder with its left hand, claws digging into me, and draws back its right to plunge its talons into my face.

The shotgun blast takes it in the side of the head. It falls sideways across the body of its companion, limp as wet seaweed.

The librarian sticks one finger in an ear and wiggles it. “A͏r̵̢e ͏y͘͠ou̶̢ ̢͟o̵͜k̵͢͜aỳ̨?͞”

“What?”

“W̷̷͞h̴̛͟a̴t͘͡?͘͞”

I try to move, but the relief of still being alive is immediately replaced by pain. I can feel warm blood spreading, fast. The librarian sees it, and their face clouds.

“H̵͘a̵n̶̴g̸͢͢ o͏n..̀.̸”

They have medical supplies in their pack. We stumble away from the incriminating metallic bodies back to my cabin. They patch me up, fast and efficient, stinging antiseptic followed by numbing cream, staples and bandages.

“Are you still taking me in?” I ask. I dread the answer. A librarian rarely shirks their duty, and I’m in no shape to resist.

Their lip twists. The angels’ screams left their ears ringing, but they’re starting to recover now.

“Nǫ.҉”

“No?” I get my boosters from their case, turn them on, put them in. The off-side ear is hard to do with the wrong hand, the action unpracticed and clumsy.

“A librarian promotes and protects learning,” they say, eyes on my wound, not my face. “We safeguard the truth.”

I grimace. “Not safeguard the Truth?”

Their snort could be a small laugh, a recognition of a distinction that perhaps only the two of us in the Sea Palace would understand, focused as it is around a capital letter. “There’s a difference. I realise that now.”

“Also, they tried to kill you.”

“Also, they tried to kill me.” They sit back, apparently done. My arm is bandaged and in a sling. It hurts, but I’ll live.

“So what are you going to do?” I ask.

They purse their lips. “Safeguard the truth. Right now, that rests with you.”

I stare at them. “I still don’t know what I’m doing.”

The librarian smiles. “Well, then. I guess I’m safeguarding you until you work it out.”


Mike Brooks is a queer, partially-deaf author who lives in Nottingham, UK with his wife, their cats, and snakes. He has written the Keiko series, grimy space-opera described as if “Firefly and The Expanse had a lovechild”, writes freelance for Games Workshop’s Black Library, and his first epic fantasy novel The Black Coast will be published by Orbit and Solaris in June 2020. When not writing he works for a homelessness charity, plays guitar and sings in a punk band, and DJs wherever anyone will tolerate him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s