Dark Triumph
by Unovis

He was born half dead and almost discarded. The Matriarch stepped in with a knife and a word and the doctor let him live. Or that was the story he got from his older cousin. When he asked his mother, humbly, she said it was nonsense. He was a good boy, a strong boy, and born to be a man.

When he was a man, he read the record. There had been a dead twin, a brother strangled in the womb and tied to him. He felt nothing about the revelation, one way or the other. He was complete. He had survived. And that, for a Nietzschean, was all.

When he was ten, his uncle took them on pilgrimage to touch the casket of Drago Museveni. It was his first trip into slipstream; he was sick in their cabin's sink, and his cousin laughed. Uncle Androcles smacked Gavin's head, but frowned at him. On the trip back, he didn't eat and kept his dignity.

The shrine, the casket, and the shriveled Remains left him unmoved. He formally acknowledged respect for the Progenitor, without whom he would not exist. He trailed his uncle and cousin through the ceremonial name declaration, the ritual hand washing, and their low bow on the Men's side of the catafalque. Women, Gavin said, were admitted separately, by a hidden door, and had their own rites and obeisances. His cousin talked more and more of women, these days, in his unstable voice. The silent honor guard who flanked the entrance smelled of incense.

He purchased a history of Pride names in the sanctuary shop. Gavin bought a pilgrim's medal and a knife.


Rhade's father died before he was born. He had no siblings he knew of. His mother lived with her mother (ashamed, said Gavin, and Rhade broke his nose). He lived with his uncle and aunts and the last of their children left at home. Uncle Androcles was a historian. He wasn't a young man, but he was strong and patient and generous with his library and advice. It seemed sometimes that he looked at Rhade with an author's avid eye.

He learned weaponry from the family coach, and fighting from being the youngest in the house. His uncle taught him Go, and chess, and Hive.

"Where did I get the name Gaheris?" he asked one day. "It's not very brave." He edged his red knight up and over.

"It's a fine name, boy. Your mother picked it from a book. She loved the old stories, like me, the histories and myths. Maybe she wanted you to follow her heart." His uncle took his bishop.

"It's a squire's name."

His uncle flapped a hand at him. "A knight, a warrior. You're more than a name."

"I don't like myths." He was losing the match, and irritable.

"Hmmph." Rhade's knight went tumbling before the white queen. "What kind of a boy doesn't love a good old tale?"

Well, there was Gavin the thick, Rhade thought. But that wasn't strictly true. Gavin had some deep pockets of superstition, for a historian's son. "It's not the stories. I like some of the stories. I don't like..." Being forced. Being trapped. Being pushed around in a game by gods or fate or powers who couldn't be levered by hard work and shrewd sense. "I don't like the religion." He surprised himself with that, and lost his last powerful piece on the board.

He surprised his uncle, too. "Religion, is it? Who's been preaching you religion?" He checked Rhade's king. "Nietzscheans don't follow gods. Gods get men killed, boy. Heroes, too. That's what the old stories and myths are for; to show you what we came up from; to show you all the wondrous ways homo sapiens found to act like fools." Rhade's inadequate counter-move was swept aside, and his king toppled.

"What about the Messiah? What about the Progenitor's return?"

Uncle Androcles started moving pieces back in place on the board. "Did the shrine upset you?"

Irritation was becoming queasiness, the same feeling he'd had in slipstream. "No. It was just a place. It wasn't very Nietzschean." The incense-smoked guards. The medals, the secret doors.

"It's the most Nietzschean place there is. It's got a genuine, salt-pickled slab of our past, right there where everyone can keep an eye on it."

Blasphemy. But it made him feel better.

"Look, son, we're not perfect."

More blasphemy!

"We're strong and we're smart and we're built to claw our way to the top. But we're not simple, we're not all alike, and we still make mistakes, like every other living race. It's important to know your history. Learn your poetry. Know the myths. You don't have to live them. You look hard at things, you find the edges and the seams."

"Don't believe anything." He nodded. This was wisdom, this was what he was beginning to suspect.

"No, you can't live like that. You just have a damn good idea of what you're signing up for, before you go marching off a cliff."

He listened, and questioned, as he'd been told.


Nietzscheans among the High Guard were uncommon. When Rhade attended the Academy on Tarn Vedra, he and his roommate were two of two hundred in their class. The class itself was the smallest to date. As the High Guard shrank, its principles and members were thrown into higher relief. Chances for advancement were good, he wrote to his mother and aunts. It was important for him to make his name, now. He kept an eye on his cousins, as they became husbands and fathers, and added tactics to his training deck. Teach a Nightsider to suck eggs, his counselor said.

When he graduated with honors, the messages from home abruptly changed. No woman had offered marriage. "Seek danger," said his mother. "Courage to attract the first wife, status for the next." "Look down the dark ways," said Uncle Androcles. "The universe is changing, and your service is stretched thin; be brave, question, and be smart." "I'll see what I can do," said Aunt Tixa.

His cousin's cousin's husband's sister smiled at his uniform over tea. A week after the wedding, he fought his first Magog.


He'd wanted to be a warrior for as long as he could recall. When he was 16, when the Magog boiled out of space and massacred his people, his mother approved a military career. Since the High Guard was the highest of the high, the closest to the ideal, that was the service he chose. He wanted to study the Commonwealth from within. He wanted to find the truth. The inner workings of the High Guard, the dark paths his uncle advised, went twisting through the trickiest arm of the service, and he followed them. He kept his eyes open and he learned. Among other things, he learned how to be useful to powerful men. He learned he enjoyed killing Magog.

His paths led him, ultimately, to a small square of carpet before the highest of high desks.

"Black Ops seems to suit you."

Admiral Stark made his blades twitch.

"I've had reports of exemplary execution from Admiral Klee, Captain Jones, 0.5 Blessed Intervention. The key trait I hear repeated is 'discretion.'"

He steadfastly looked at a point just past her eyes. He would not disrespect or be snared by a woman of power; but curiosity fought with caution. Why was he called here? What had he done?

She looked at the flexi in her hand; at a touch, screens flipped by. "Discreet ... discreet ... discreet ...discreet... Tell me, Mr. Rhade, what have you done so discreetly for, say, the adjutant of the seventh Lance command?"

"Whatever was necessary, Ser," he said. She had every fact not recorded on those screens tucked away behind her eyes, he had no doubt. Not even a fool would provide details.

"You've requested transfer out of Ops to the Lancers. Your idea?"

"Yes, Ser." There was a nice commission within reach there, he'd been promised. An attractive new wife and Pride connection riding on it. A timely way out of the mud that had become bloodier and stickier this year.

"I have a better one." She picked up another flexi from her desk. "Two jobs, in need of your discreet abilities."

"Ser." His heart sank, with his Lancer prospects. Covert operation--the second flexi was black, key coded, and brittle. It would be dust within an hour. She tapped a sequence on its edge and handed it over. The job was as unpleasant as he'd feared; he knew men who had died already, trying to "extradite" Chancellor Ferrin. He scanned the page. The inside man looked promising. One man, one assassin, with this guide could conceivably do the job without ruining himself or starting a war. The next screen was less encouraging. He stared at the handsome smile and record of honorable, rash success.

"I want the mission accomplished. I want him to survive. Make him your brother," said Stark, "and I'll treat you better than the Lancers."

She caught him thinking, and grinned nastily. "Ah, Nietzscheans. Make him the brother you never had, then." And at that, of course, he had to grin back.


The Treaty of Antares was a blow to the Nietzschean people, an affront and a fatal sign of weakness. Uncle Androcles died before Rhade could discuss it with him. He saw Gavin at the funeral rites. They fought; then they talked.

He'd planned to train as a pilot with the Lancers. The Admiral's intervention pushed him into a new position, a more strategic role. The Commonwealth was rotten in places, so fallen away that you could barely see the outline it was built upon. But on the Andromeda Ascendant, everything was as straight and true to the High Guard myth as Dylan Hunt could make it. Rhade kept his Captain's back, and drilled the crew to the letter, by the book. They patrolled the Magog quarantine zone, but no longer killed.

He made Hunt a brother, a minor brother, though their ages didn't quite work out that way. Dylan doubtless saw him as his own cadet. No matter. He stayed close and tried to teach him what he could.

"Associations make you strong. Associations make you weak." Rhade lined up black pebbles in his head.

Dylan laughed. "Another of your uncle's proverbs?" He put on a comical face and a gruff voice. "Trust no one, young Rhade. Trust no one and nothing."

"He'd say, trust yourself. If you put that pebble down any time soon, I can start to win this game."

"You're a smug son of a bitch, you know that?"

"Superior." Dylan was playing an aggressive game again, still oblivious to Rhade's occasional sleights of hand. He debated allowing him to win. No, he decided. He'd already declared victory and should carry through. And he didn't like being called a son of a bitch. No Nietzschean did.

"How's the new addition?"

"Which one?" He had two newborn sons, and, he hoped, a daughter on the way. On every leave, for the past three years, he tried to spend as much time in his wives' beds as they'd allow. They knew why. They accomodated him, as did most wives these days.

"The one you should have named after me."

"I don't think my aunts would approve." He could just imagine.

"Aunts. I'll trade you; Sara's Aunt Connie for -- oh, pick any ten or twelve of yours."

He shuddered mentally. "Father your own sons." And soon.

"The wedding's in a week. I'll do my best." Dylan smiled at the picture on his desk of himself and Sara. "She'd rather wait, I think."

"It's a woman's choice."

"Will you bring them to the wedding?" Dylan was up again, walking around the cabin. He'd been more animated as the date grew near, more cheerful. Nervous.

"The children?" Now Dylan was clanking the drinks caddy on the counter.

"Your wives. I've never met them."

"No. I can arrange for us to visit them, sometime." Picturing Dylan among his family was amusing: a fighting cock in a room full of cats.

Dylan came back with scotch, glasses, and a flat box. "For your youngest, with the ridiculous name."

He opened the box, while Dylan poured. It was one of his uncle's books, in an edition he'd never seen. It was printed on paper, sewn, and bound in leather; from Tarn Vedra, no doubt, where ancient crafts were treasured. The text was bilingual. "My father found a copy for me. I remembered him reading it when I was a boy. He said it was full of good ideas."

"The Progenitor's Thumbs." The title still made him laugh. "Essays and Aphorisms. It's been out of circulation for years; I'm amazed you found it." It would not be issued again. His uncle's philosophy was dangerously obsolete. He turned over a few pages, Dylan reading over his shoulder.

The section headings were classics: The Bottomless Pitcher. Thorns and Claws. The Triumph of the Dark Twin.

"'The Dark Twin will overcome.' Sounds like a fortune."

"Not for me it isn't," he shrugged. "I'm an only child." It is for me, he thought. My black will take your white, my dark your light. He clapped the book shut. "It's a gracious gift. My son will treasure it."

"Dark twin." The phrase had taken Dylan's fancy, and he took the book from Rhade's hand. "Like twin stars. Hero Twins. Hun and Vucub, Redwin and G'har. Or Cain and Abel. You know, my father always disliked that story."

"Come back to the game. It's your move."

"He was a gardener. He thought God was wrong." Dylan looked from the book to the board, absently. "Let it go, tonight. I'd rather talk."

Black had only half surrounded white; the game was still a draw. "Later," Rhade agreed.


In a few quiet meetings with key people, Rhade had offered a plan: spring the trap while Dylan was on his wedding leave and the Adromeda was, for a week, under his command. Easier to deliver the starship whole. A good idea, if Gavin gave his assent.

The ambush was early, instead. He gave Dylan fair warning. He gave hard advice. When it wasn't accepted, he did what he had to do.

Rhade's spurs were bloody and adrenaline pumped through his veins. He rounded the corridor leading to Command. At the other end, a man stepped from the shadows, forcelance leveled, and shot him in the chest. A second, before he dropped. A second to see clearly, in the middle of darkening sight, his own face and likeness attacking him.

"You're not real. You died," he choked.

"Not yet," he heard his voice say. A hand touched his cheek. "Trust me, this is right."


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