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Chapter Two

THERE WAS no cycle of night and day on Gath. Always the swollen ball of the sun glowered over the horizon, tinting the leaden sea the color of blood. To the east there was darkness, cold, mysterious. Between light and dark ran a strip of bearable temperature but only here, on this waterlogged world, did it touch both land and ocean. The accident of distribution had helped to make the planet unique.

"A dying world," said a voice. It was soft, carefully modulated. "Angered at the knowledge of its inevitable end. A little jealous, a little pathetic, very much afraid and most certainly cruel."

"You are speaking of Gath?" Seena Thoth, ward of the Matriarch of Kund, stayed looking through the window set into the wall of the tent. There was no need for her to turn. She had recognized the voice. Synthosilk rustled as the tall figure of Cyber Dyne stepped to her side.

"What else, My Lady?"

"I thought it possible you spoke in analogy." She turned and faced the cyber. He wore the scarlet robe of his class; beneath its cowl his face was smooth, ageless, unmarked by emotion. "The Matriarch is also old, perhaps a little afraid, most certainly cruel—to those who oppose her will."

"To be a ruler is not an easy thing, My Lady."

"It can be worse to be a subject." She turned from the window, her face pale beneath the black mound of lacquered hair. "I saw one before we left Kund, a man impaled on a cone of polished glass. They told me that his sensitivity to pain had been heightened and that he would take a long time to die."

"He was a traitor, My Lady. The manner of his death was chosen so as to serve as an example to others who might be tempted to rebel."

"By your advice?" She tightened her lips at the inclination of his head. "So. You oppose rebellion?"

"I do not oppose, I do not aid. I take no sides. I advise. I am of value only while I remain detached." He spoke his credo in the same soft, even modulation he would use to announce the arrival of battle, murder, and sudden death.

She hid her repulsion as she heard it. It was instinctive, this dislike of hers for the cyber. As a woman she was proud of her sex and the power it gave. She liked to read desire in the eyes of men but she had never read it in the eyes of Dyne. She would never read it. No woman ever would.

At five he had been chosen. At fifteen, after a forced puberty, he had undergone an operation on the thalamus. He could feel no joy, no hate, no desire, no pain. He was a coldly logical machine of flesh and blood, a detached, dispassionate human robot. The only pleasure he could know was the mental satisfaction of correct deduction.

"It seems to me," she said slowly, "that your logic is at fault. To make a martyr is a mistake. Martyrs make causes."

"Not unless there is a cause to make," he corrected.

"The man was a paid assassin. He knew the risk he ran and accepted it. The opposition on Kund, My Lady, is not of the masses. It is common knowledge that the rule of the Matriarch has been benevolent."

"That is true."

"It is also well known that she is no longer young and has still not named her successor."

She nodded, impatient with him for laboring the obvious.

"That is why the site of the execution was chosen so carefully," he murmured. "It was no accident that the man was impaled before the residence of the Lady Moira."

The suggestion was outrageous. Seena both knew and liked the woman. "You say that she would employ an assassin? Ridiculous!"

Dyne remained silent.

"The Lady Moira is rich and powerful," she admitted. "But she is a woman of honor."

"Honor, My Lady, can mean many things to many people."

"But assassination—"

"Is an accepted political instrument. It is feared that the Matriarch is no longer at her prime. There are those who are concerned about the succession. That," he added, "is why I chose the place of execution."

"I know," she said impatiently. "Before the residence of the Lady Moira." Her eyes widened. "Whose house is next to the Halatian Embassy!"

Dyne made no answer, his face bland, his eyes enigmatic, but Seena was no fool. She had lived too long in the hothouse atmosphere of court intrigue not to be able to see the obvious. Kund was wealthy, Halat was not. Many thought that the Lady Moira had a better claim to the throne than the Matriarch. Gloria was old.

But to assassinate her?

"You misunderstand, My Lady," said Dyne in his soft modulation. "The assassination was not aimed at the Matriarch. It was aimed at yourself."

* * * | The Winds of Gath | * * *