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The Essential Function of the Outsider

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The observer effect. It has been discovered, discredited, and proven once again over the centuries, at the border where physics meets philosophy.

The observer, by watching an experiment, alters the outcome. The observer, by watching an experiment, is subtly altered.

The implications for first contact should have been obvious. Certainly Earth had seen enough of its own cultures destroyed and languages lost forever to draw the necessary conclusions. Yet it took a dozen ravaged sentient worlds for the Dominion to make the necessary modifications to our xeno-contact protocols.

To create the Envoy.

- excerpt from the unpublished memoirs of Alexander Miller,
former Minister of the Dominion Commission on Alien Cultures and Commerce

The Envoy. S’aranth. Christie.

She came to us empty-handed, without sword or telestre, ashiren or arykei. She was alone, and never more so than among those who should have been her own people.

Christie seemed soft, like a young woman on her first campaign. Yet she survived. Survived poison and hired sword and betrayal. Survived the hospitality of T’An Roehmonde, the fen-born, and the barbarians. Survived the Hundred Thousand and the Brown Tower.

She came to change my world with nothing but her stories and her own fierce, unbreakable will.

She was the most dangerous woman I’ve ever known. And I think I loved her for it.

- from the journals of Ruric-amari

Christie had a sly sense of humor. She would attend formal events in her outlandish dress and insult self-important s’an and pompous Wellkeepers right to their faces in her harsh, oddly-inflected Ymirian. The officials would pause, assume it a mistranslation or cultural misunderstanding, and ignore the insult. And then Christie’s hard white eyes would search me out from across the room, and she would smile.

I found myself wondering if that pale yellow mane of hers would be soft to the touch. If she would shiver at a caress down the lightly-furred skin of her throat. I watched her hands move as she talked, the squat, clawless five fingers broadcasting her emotions to the world, and considered how they would look entwined with my own. She had the breasts of a nursing mother, and I imagined the sounds she would make as I nuzzled them, my fingers busy between her thighs.

I never acted on my desires. It was too dangerous. Christie’s people had no proper custom of arykei. Judging from Christie’s stories, they skipped from friends to n’ ri n’suth to enemies, leaving ashiren crying in the wake, guided by a desire for pair-bonding that she translated as love, but could only be a form of madness.

Christie saw the atrocity of landless in Corbek. Men and women, even ashiren, all outside the telestre. Rootless. Without land. Without hope. She called it a ‘slum’. Apparently every human city has one. She smiled as she said it.

At that moment I could see that I was not speaking to a woman of the Southland. Christie was not, in truth, a woman at all. White eyed. Wrong handed. She was an Outworlder. Other. Alien.

I took that revelation with me to the Skulls Garrison.

The Witchbreed had no past memories. That is known by all. Christie’s people have no past memories. That is not a secret. She did not conceal it. Nor did she speak carelessly of it, having seen the fear it raised in us.

And I? I have no past memories either. And that, that is a secret indeed. No truth could more condemn me in the eyes of the Southland. I write it here because without it, my story makes no sense.

You see, I almost died in the Skulls Garrison. The fever nearly took me as it did a dozen others. As I lay helpless in the garrison infirmary, I faced my mortality, and I raged. Those around me died easy, knowing they would return. But I was golden-eyed and soul-less, with only one life to live. What I had, what I had given, it was not enough.

Yes, I’d been T’An Commander of the Southland. What of it? I’d led the army, as would Asshe after me, as could any of a hundred others. The Southland was still under threat from within, from the Witchbreed, from the Dominion beyond the stars, as if I had never existed. I had a single living ashiren. Rodion Halfgold bore the mark of my bad blood on kir skin; it made kir feared and despised even by kir own telestre.

I rose from my own deathbed determined to make something of my life. To help my ashiren, protect the Southland, and leave such a mark that my name would never be forgotten.

I returned to Corbek to find that Christie had died, accused and hunted and lost to the fens. Roehmonde Province was in an uproar, near to war between and even within the telestres. Companion houses had closed their doors as Earthspeakers and Wellkeepers turned one against the other. A single Outworlder had been enough to shatter the peace Beth'ru-elen had given us with the church of the Goddess.

And now the good woman who had stood between us and the Dominion was gone. Out there, among the stars, was a race with no past memories to temper their ambitions and enough Witchbreed technology to take what they wanted. I had learned their tongue. I had listened, in Tathcaer, when Christie’s people complained about us. They called us savages, our planet a worthless backwater, our worship of the Goddess a primitive superstition. They thought us none-too-clever animals, like rashaku that would either be trained to serve or be put in the soup pot.

The Dominion was beyond the reach of our intelligencers and hired swords and armies. Yet I thought we might have a chance. Because Christie was terrible at ochmir.

She could never remember that the face a piece shows to the world is not its only face. She would battle for territory on the board, when influence is what truly matters. She senselessly trusted her allies, not understanding that alliances rest on the knife's edge of advantage. She could not comprehend that to cheat is admirable; it is only being caught that makes one despised.

She was even more hopeless at the true game. It was a weakness in her; one shared by all her people. And so I began to play.

At first contact, the xeno-team provides an anchor. A foot-hold of Earth culture and technology on an alien world. Eventually we will send a diplomat to represent the interests and requirements of the Dominion to the other. A diplomat who will never lose track of who and what he is, no matter how far from home.

But before we send a diplomat, we need an envoy. The ideal envoy is a man or woman who has never had a home. Someone who was raised as a human, but was never truly one of us. An empath who can drift on the tides that would batter a ship at anchor. Who will sway and bend in the alien breezes, allowing those who follow to perceive and safely navigate those invisible currents.

Treat your envoy with respect. But never trust him. There is nothing more alien or more dangerous than an envoy in the field. He will go beyond all limits of sanity and decency to protect his adopted home.

- excerpt from the unpublished memoirs of Alexander Miller,
former Minister of the Dominion Commission on Alien Cultures and Commerce

I played, and I lost.

I lost because I finally found lines I would not cross. Because not even for the Southland would I agree to Rodion’s assassination. Because I stood before the Goddess and realized that a creature like myself should not become T’An Suthai-Telestre.

I lost everything.

T’An Melkathi, stripped away. Orhlandis telestre gone, the land destroyed by a handful of my fire arrows and the people by the word of Dalzielle. My army torn apart by shame and exile. Rodion would not meet my eyes as her arykei pleaded for their unborn ashiren.

In all the Southland, in all my world, Christie was the one I chose to say goodbye to. She was the only one who could see that my greatest sin was not setting fire to a grassland, or playing the game with Kel Harantish gold, or even failure. No. The only wrong I truly regretted, was that I had betrayed her.

She was my friend.

Christie was exiled to the stars, as I was exiled beyond the borders of the Southland. Death and pain are meant to be a lesser sentence, but, Sunmother's tits, they should have killed me. They have rejected me, called me traitor. Declared that my home is not my home, that Rodion and the one in her belly are not my kin.

Some things cannot be taken by force. My home is where I make it. My kin are those I claim, those I love. They could not take my wits, my will, or my sword. Those were enough, once, for an ashiren-amari to rise to power. And will be again.

They should have killed me.