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Loren Cooper works as a technical coordinator for Hewlett-Packard. His short story "Soldier's Home" (which is set in the same universe as "Black Promise") appears in Dark Planet #4.


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Black Promise: Part Two

by Loren W. Cooper

(Go back to Part One)

     Temenus stood watching her in silence, until at last he dropped his eyes from Eleythia's steady gaze and nodded to his small station at the edge of the sea. "Let's talk."
     She followed him without speaking, sands dark as rust hissing underfoot. At his quarters, she walked behind him like a memory of times past given flesh. Temenus seated himself, lips curving in a slight smile as Eleythia strolled in a slow circuit of the room, pausing occasionally to open a small cabinet door, reach through a cascade field cloaking cabinets, and finally frowning at the archaic cushion under Temenus' arm.
     As Temenus smiled back, Eleythia arched a delicate eyebrow. "You have them well hidden."
     "No."
     She shook her head. "Foolish to so trust the good will of your fellow man. Particularly for you."
     "I left all that behind when I left the Movement behind. Why are you here?" Temenus carefully kept his features hard.
     Eleythia shrugged. "You have some idea."
     Temenus scowled. "I have nothing left for you."
     Eleythia shook her head. "You don't believe that."
     Temenus met her steady gaze. "No?"
     Eleythia's eyes never wavered. "I have never thought you a fool. And only a fool would believe that you can so easily step out of the Shadow War."
     Temenus leaned forward. "Answer my question. Why are you here?"
     Eleythia watched him in silence for slow moments, then shrugged. "You have become a part of this project. You have begun studying an indigenous predator. Have you published the results of any of these studies?"
     Temenus' eyes narrowed. "No."
     "Information regarding your results has come to the notice of the Concilium Elite. Their interest piqued our interest. On the bits and pieces I alone have heard, I understand the interest and the potential applications. Can it be that you do not?"
     Temenus laughed harshly. "Of course I understand. That's why I haven't published. When I came here, Hope was a chance for escape, and little more than a curiosity to anyone outside pure research. When I realized that Bloodfish predation patterns implied natural empathic potential as well as considerable intelligence, I knew that a detailed comparative biological study had the possibility of unlocking the physiological basis of parapsychological phenomena in humans. The Institute, the Movement and the Concilium Elite would all descend like vultures. So I haven't assembled any data formally. I've made no presentations, published nothing, and said little."
     Eleythia leaned forward slightly. "You've apparently said too much. You're under observation here, I have no doubt. Why have you stayed?"
     Lines pulled tight around his mouth. "Why did you come? If you have no doubt that I am observed, then you know what reaction your presence will provoke."
     Her voice was soft. "Why have you stayed, Temenus? You gave yourself to the fire and darkness that is the Shadow War, as I did, as all of us did. You cannot leave it behind, for it will always be a part of you. People die in war, even women and children. Why did you stay, unarmed, when you knew they would come?"
     He watched her, harshness smoothed away from her face, eyes clear and guileless, and he cursed her softly. "Why goad me? I could not leave. Eleythia, when I am out there, rolling on the back of the burnished sea, fighting to understand what they are, and why, and who...in those times the fire and the darkness, the hate and the pain, the faces and the deeds all drop away from me, and I am free of them for a little while. The White Lady knew, and she left with the Wayfarers. You know what it means to kill a man, Eleythia, but you have never killed a world. I can still see it, you know. As it was."
     She stood, light glittering in her eyes as she shook her head. "I have done what I could. You know what will be following after me."
     He sighed as she stood. "What of Nico?"
     She looked at him for a long silent moment. "He is well." She turned away.
     He watched her walk to the door, and called after her, voice thick and slow. "Eleythia, I loved you once. Why did you stay?"
     She turned in the doorway, her words soft and clear. "Temenus, I love you still. Why did you leave?"
     After the door closed silently behind her, the white light faded behind the slowly dying sun, falling around him until he sat alone in the darkness, burning.

Continue on to Parts Three and Four