2 \ 184

The room server found Celeste when she returned for the tea tray – Magus the 24th, slumped over her desk as though arrow-struck from behind. The server contacted emergency, who contacted the family. Before anyone moved her, the King Ascendant arrived, then Mireille with Cristobal and Carlo. So, they were able to witness the death scene.

The dead Queen’s family sat in the room with her, and talked immediately about the succession. From the small plate of madeleines, Mireille took a cookie, Carlo took a cookie, Cristobal took a cookie, and Mireille put one extra into a pocket. Vario did not take a cookie. Soleil, the Princess Ascendant, was still missing – yet even if she were there, she wasn’t the rulership age of thirty. There was no Queen Ascendant now. The children looked at their father. “Does this mean you’ll be King?” asked the next-oldest daughter.

“Yes,” replied Grant Vario, “but only for a little while, until the Scion is ready of age.” He looked into the eyes of Mireille, eldest child present, next-oldest daughter.

They emerged from the room after their personal grieving. Grant Vario signed the succession document held in front of him, and the arrangements began.

The Teachings took place over a full week. In the Teachings, traditional to the Magus, the works of the previous monarch were biographically presented so that all who survived her could assess what to carry forward in her memory. At the end of these, King Proxem Vario delivered an address.

“Though tragedy and confusion have brought me to this position, with your help I will make better of it. We are more than equal to the demands of these times. We need look no further than our own resolution to move beyond our troubles. I mourn as you do, perhaps more grievously, but I hold firmly to hope that things will be set to rights. The Pan-Galactic Imperium can stay steady, secure, and strong – as it has remained with Magus rule.

Many generations throughout the span of the Imperium have seen greater strife than what we now endure. To all who have lost homes and loved ones in the disasters on Genesee; to the Aquarii still suffering from the destruction of the Symbias trees, and people separated from loved ones due to travel restrictions; to those who struggled to survive the biological warfare of a criminal who has escaped justice yet again; to those who lost relations in the Photuris Attack, which freed the Imperium’s deadliest enemies and took the Queen Ascendant, my wife Charlotte; to those who await the return of our beloved Scion Princess, Soleil; I say that you can place your trust in me, Grant Vario, as King Proxem.

I will of course steward the best of futures to pass to my Ascendant child, and so will every one of you receive it. The Pan-Galactic Imperium is my heart and soul and family. To me, it is all. That our peoples should flourish, that we should rise to greater expanses and grasp the glories we seek, to this my life is already dedicated.”

1 \ 183

Queen Celeste had donned the Old Armor. Two score nights ago, after her successor daughter was dead and her scion granddaughter missing, she’d begun adding the armor, one piece at a time, over the plain grey shift. She now wore all the heritage pieces, each made with some of the original metal worn by the entire Magus line – rulers of the Pan-Galactic Imperium.

The smoothly clacking kilt of plates shone from her lap beneath the desk before her. The granular deckle edge of document paper slid beneath her fingerpads as she waved them across the horizontal announcement of a founding charter. A new library in the capital, with an archaeological catalog including items previously unreleased or unorganized. It would be a public-entry portion of the Imperial Grounds. The perimeter would change in that spot, but the style transition would be graceful.

Against the rounded upper curve of her office wall, two timelines and three pictures were displayed. Swiping her hand in the air, she’d cycle and rearrange items while assessing proposals. The sun would be setting soon.

At the first hint of the sky turning, Celeste began to put away her work. She collapsed page images into the 3D model. She contacted the responsible executives and the construction company. She signed it in.

The age of stone. There was a philosopher who discussed generational ages long ago, in terms of the longevity of their works of intention, as analogized with building materials afforded to each. The age of paper spanned decades. The age of wood spanned centuries. The age of stone spanned millennia. Daughter, mother, grandmother. Fathers and grandfathers. Celeste was in her age of stone. She thought through the consequences of her actions beyond a thousand years, what the future looks like when there are generations to follow. Stone agers laid those careful and heavy foundations.

Who amidst the ages was thinking to this year? Around a thousand years ago, the Magus line was just beginning on Alisandre with Marialain, dragon speaker. Now the worlds were full of dragon speakers, but she was the first to speak so well to them that they decided to collaborate with humanity in creating interstellar civilization: that which Celeste’s own hands now steered.

Celeste, Magus the 24th of the Pan-Galactic Imperium, called in tea and a plate of madeleine cookies. It arrived while she was putting her work away, tidy, as though anyone might come in and use her desk. Thinking of the stones she has laid. Would they crumble, like the stone in her dream? Would light shine out of them?

She spilled her glass of cold herb infusion onto the cleared desk. That elixir tasted so good, she hated to waste it. Perhaps it was her age or her illness that made it taste so fine. In the next moment, her head had fallen to lay next to it, and she watched the liquid approach her lips, all by itself. Celeste hadn’t been told it would feel like this, but she might be dying. So much yet unknown.

The sound of her last breaths grew longer, and vision turned dim. She became the growing shadow, but against it was a light. This opposition was the greatest of hopes, and in a final glimpse it overtook everything.