The truth is out there...and discovering the truth is the grand quest of the Omnet, the organization that is the backbone of galactic civilization. For it is the Omnet's information that drives the governments, the economies, and the cultures of myriad worlds.
But someone is sowing seeds of disaster amidst the worlds of the Omnet and threatening civilization with collapse. The only hope to stem the tide of rebellion is an ancient artifact: the Mantle of Kendis-dai. No one knows if the Mantle really exists. No one knows what the Mantle really is. But legend tells that whoever wears the Mantle will be gifted with all knowledge. The Mantle is Power and Merinda Neskat of the Omnet is determined to find it.
Unfortunately, the key to her quest is a lost and bewildered crew of human astronauts, bound to follow Merinda in a dangerous race against time and deadly enemy forces...in search of a mysterious world which holds the secret of ancient wisdom that could save them or disrupt the path of civilization forever!
Dragonlance Chronicles, Volume 1: Dragons of Autumn Twilight; Volume 2: Dragons of Winter Night; and Volume 3: Dragons of Spring Dawning, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, are also available from Random House AudioBooks.
Kate Burton has appeared in such films as August and Life with Mikey. Her theater work includes roles on Broadway in Doonesbury and the revival of Stephen Sondheim's Company. She has previously read Intensity and SpringCollection for Random House AudioBooks.
About the Author
Tracy Raye Hickman was born in Salt Lake City. He currently resides in a large Victorian home he built for his wife and four children in the tall mountain pines of Flagstaff, Arizona. He has co-authored with Margaret Weis four New York Times bestselling series, including the Death Gate Cycle and the Dragonlance series which have more than eleven million copies in print and has published his own solo works as well.
Read an Excerpt
Merinda laughed. She collapsed lovingly on top of him--nearly sending him back under water a third time--and then rolled with him back up onto the beach. "Oh, Kat, when I heard you were coming, I hoped you might remember this place--this one place that is more dear to me than any in all the creations."
"There are many more beautiful and terrible places in the stars than this one," Queekat shook his hair at her, spraying water into her squealing face.
"Not to me, you brute," she replied when at last she could. "We met here, you and I. This is our place, our private little universe so far from the worries of our professions or directors or . . ."
"Or the E'toris," Queekat continued for her. "Say, how is the old cliff-goat anyway?"
Merinda screwed her face into a belligerent look that was betrayed by the brightness of her eyes locked on his. She reached over with her cupped hand and splashed a small sheet of water in his general direction.
"Hey," he protested with little protest.
"Our E'toris Librae is fine, I believe and, as I am sure that you as ambassador and investigator for the Omnet are well aware, is not planetside presently."
Merinda almost became serious. "Oh, Kat, don't mistake me for stupid. You know as well as I that your visit would have sent her into a fit of preparations and ceremonies. You were her brightest and fairest of the fair to ever leave this rock. Imagine, a lowly information sifter from the D'Rakan Empire actually rising to the post of Inquisitor of the Omnet. Kat, if she'd known you were coming there would be so much ceremony that I'd never get to see you."
"Yeah, E'torisWishtan is awfully proud of her magnificent D'Rakan Empire." Queekat sat up slowly, drawing his knees up and hugging them as he looked up toward the first stars appearing directly overhead through the mists. "I use to think so, too--until I left here. D'Rakan Empire is a find sounding name until you put it up against the galaxy. Then--well, then it tends to get pretty small, Rini."
Merinda rested her head again her hands in the sand. Queekat had called her by the familiar of her name and she knew, somehow just knew, that he still felt for her as he had those months before. "What's it like,Kat--out there, I mean. What's it like for an Inquisitor."
Queekat smiled and shook his head. "It's different than we thought, Rini. More complicated. More subtle. Good guys and bad guys get lost in the details. Black and white begins to look gray from a distance--as gray as these robes."
"But that's your job, isn't it?" Merinda asked, not quite understanding what he was telling her. "Separating the black and the white in the details? You're the Vestis inquisitors who take all this information that we churn through in the Atis Librae and pinpoint where the truth is."
Queekat snorted, "Right. You sift through the mud and when something really horrible turns up, we Vestis get to clean it up."
Ah," she said, cocking her head to one side mischievously, "is my handsome paladin of the universe feeling a bit peckish today?" "Peckish?!" Queekan leaped so quickly to his feet that Merinda froze, frightened at the change that overcame him. He stood over her now,a sullen rage barely restrained within him. "You've no idea what's really going on out there, do you, Merinda? What it is we have do deal with? There are fifty-seven minor stellar empires in this sector alone, fifteen of which aren't even aware that there is other life in the universe and seven of which are preparing to go to war right now. Damn it, Merinda, two of those are arming themselves for a war over interstellar exportation of indigenous cheeses. Here we are, trying to recover the wisdom and knowledge lost when the Kendis Imperium fell--three thousand years ago, mind you-- and we're preoccupied when over six trillion lifeforms threatened over moldy milk products!"
Queekan stopped, able for the first time to see past his anger. He looked down at Merinda. Don't move, she thought, purposefully allowing her face to go completely neutral toward him. Let him take his time and he'll come around to what's really bothering him. He always does.
Queekan sighed and knelt wearily in the sand before her. "Sorry, Rini. I guess I'm just not myself anymore."
Merinda lay slowly back on her elbows. Her voice barely carried over the rumble of the falls beyond Queekat but her words were distinct, their meaning clear. "You always knew just who you were and where you were going. I remember standing in the Golden Court beneath a hallow of stars ..."
"That was long ago," Queekat muttered.
"... and you looked up with a hunger far greater than you ever felt for me." Merinda's words came devoid of compassion or malice--statements whose value stood on their own without the inflection of the feelings she held against them. "'They will be mine,' you said."
"I meant 'ours'," he snapped.
"But you said, 'mine'," she responded testily. "Within a week you were gone, Kat. Atis Librae Shn-dar out of nowhere selected for the great Inquisitas Vestis. One week you were analyzing synopsis news up streamfrom a handful of backwater worlds and the next you were off reinventing yourself as an inquisitor for the Omnet."
Queekat looked up sharply. "I didn't reinvent myself! There was hardly any need to--they did a fine enough job reinventing me on their own terms. Look, Rini, you have no idea what it's like. You have to know so much that is specific to your assignment and your assignment changes so often. They just pour it right into you, Rini. The Oracles of Nine decide who you have to be on a mission and then they make you into that person. They partition your brain as if you were a mechanical device just like them--sift your memories and shuffle your thoughts into convenient storage places to make room for the information they think you need to get the job done for the Omnet. Then they just pour it into you through a biolink."
Merinda watched him carefully. Somewhere, high overhead, a Stribek cawed as it soared above the falls. Queekat sighed, and began sifting the wet sands of the beach through his fingers.
"By the stars, Rini, three months ago they needed a xenobiologist with surgical skills. I was on the duty list. One night, I went to bed not knowing that the Kribenthian Sedak even existed and by the time I awoke I could not only describe its anatomy down to the cellular and chemical level but perform surgery on it as well. For that month I was the greatest of all Sedak physicians. When it was over, I had another assignment. The Nine gave me knowledge of the deep intricacies of the Four Dynasties of the Ruqua. Oh, I could instantly recount to you the relationships and genealogies of each of the four houses for the last thousands years--but I no longer knew a Kribenthian Sedak's hand from its ass." Queekat had lapsed into a rather pouty sullenness. Merinda chewed her lowerlip. It had become awkward, watching an inquisitor unguarded and vulnerable. Then he looked up at her and smiled the same confident, knowing self-assured smile that had so blinded her when they first met that she, in her eternal pessimism, had ascribed to being too cocky and self-important. She couldn't believe then that the smile was meant for her alone but she had at last claimed ownership to it and from that time her loneliness had ended. Despite the robes and the manor and the training, he was still Queekat. She was sure of it.
"Well, then, who are you today?" Merinda teased with a gentle edge in her voice. "Does your mission require you to become an invisible part of the D'Rakan Council of Matriarchs or are you perhaps something even more exotic?"
"Oh, you are such an innocent," he laughed, shaking his head."I hate to disappoint you, but today I'm an advanced theorist technician for level twelve synthetic minds." She looked at him with disbelief. "You're what?"
"I am an expert at communication with and repair of most automated household appliances."
Merinda laughed. In a single smooth motion, she grabbed the front of Queekat's jump suit and pulled him down onto the sand next to her. "Ah, my own inquisitor; master of the self regulating laundry! What evil grows among the stars which causes the Omnet to send its ruthless and skilled investigators to the far reaches of the D'Rakan Empire which require the skills of an expert repair man? Are the Nine Oracles so concerned about the kitchen synths at our little sanctuary that they would send one of their elite researchers all the way to Brishan?"
"No," he smiled at her, "my mission is on Tentris--but I'm going to need a little help. That's why I'm here. I assume that you still have some leave saved up. Can you get a way for a few days?"
Merinda never spent her leave time--while Queekat had been here there never seemed to be a need for it and once Queekat had gone there never seemed to be much point. Her heart leaped at the thought of taking a holiday with him, of getting off this rock and visiting somewhere exciting and new. It had never seemed important to her before--she certainly could have arranged passage to just about anywhere she wished to holiday in the past--but suddenly it had become incredibly important.
"Yes! Of course I can get away for a few days!" The words gushed out of her in a school-girl rush that belied her usual serious and controlled demeanor. "Do I have time to pack anything or must we leave right away?" "Easy! Easy!" Queekat held up both hands to fend off the words assaulting him. "It's not going to just be us. I'm going to need Kelis, Flynn, Dharah . . . probably Sendix and I think Brenai should joins us as well . . . hey, stop that! What's the matter with you?"
Merinda had begun beating her fists rather ineffectually against the man's chest, a pout growing more and more pronounced as she spoke. "Why do you have to bring along the whole department? We don't need them! You're the great inquisitor; you're the one with all the training and powers! We don't need anyone else--all you need is me!"
"Merinda! This is an important operation! There'll be plenty of time for us to . . ."
"Don't you talk to me about time," Merinda's blows were becoming a bit more effective, the pain beginning to register in Queekat's face."I transcom a message to you everyday. You use to be good about getting your replies back to me. Now I hardly hear from you. Nearly two months had gone by until your arrival message came. Now you're here and you--you want to mount an expedition? Don't you think I can see what's happening. . ."
The word was sharp and harsh in her ears. She had never heard him use her name so coldly. She stopped as he arrested both of her forearms in his powerful hands.
"Rini, this is my work. I serve the Omnet just as you do. There's a very special place for you in all of this. I can't explain it to you now and you may not understand it at first but it is necessary that you come and it is necessary that you do your duty--do you understand?"
Queekat's gray eyes held her gaze. It was impossible for her to look into them and not feel slightly lost.
"Yes," she said softly at last, "I understand. It just that it has been such a long time, Kat. I just . . . I just wanted a little time for us."
He pulled her toward him, the coldness of his face warming slightly. She buried her face against his chest, cradling herself under his arm. "Of course, Rini," he said to her, the words warm but the tone somewhat distracted. "We all want just a little more time."
Merinda closed her eyes, her mind taking her back to the time before when their excursions to the falls had been warm and wonderful.
She did not see Queekat's own eyes, staring blankly at the emerging stars over head.
Table of Contents
As a child, I had always enjoyed storytelling, always enjoyed reading. Lying in bed, when I couldn't sleep, I would make up elaborate plots involving myself with my favorite book characters. I solved crimes with Sherlock Holmes; I fought alongside the Three Musketeers. But it never occurred to me to try to earn a living by putting my stories to paper.
What I wanted to be was an artist! Art was my major in college. One day, during my freshman English class, the teacher asked me to stay after the others had left. I was panicked. What had I done wrong? She soothed my fears by saying that she had been impressed with my writing. Had I ever considered majoring in English? The department was starting a new course in creative writing, and she urged me to consider joining it.
I felt just like John Belushi in the Blues Brothers movie, when the heavens open up and the light streams down on him. I knew at that moment, with my entire being, that I wanted to be a writer. Much as I loved art (and still do!) I would never be an artist. I had been given the gift of painting my ideas and dreams in words, not with a brush. The next day, I went to the English department and switched majors. My parents were supportive, although my mother was convinced I would end up starving in an attic. She was almost right. Trying to establish myself as an author was extremely difficult. Many years, I worked eight-hour days and then wrote at night, after the children were in bed. Relationships foundered because my writing came first. There were times, after receiving the 20th rejection letter, when I wanted to give up. I kept going, however; mainly because one person, my agent, the late Ray Puechner, believed in me.
Has writing been all I'd hoped? Like any other job, there are times when writing can be drudgery. A writer is not inspired 24 hours a day. When inspiration doesn't strike, you have to trudge on ahead. Deadlines don't wait for inspiration; there are times when writing can be sheer torment. Nothing is worse than a book that simply will not do what you want it to do.
But though 17 years have passed, I still remember vividly the thrill I felt when I answered the phone and the voice at the other end said, "Margaret Weis? I want to publish your book!"