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Prologue

"How many worlds does this make?" The dialogue took place before a wall-sized view-screen. The image was not one to make for happy conversation.


The aide knew the question was rhetorical. As the Ghin aged he was becoming soft, without direction. Yet powerful still.


"Seventy-two."


"Not including Barwhon or Diess."


"They have not yet fallen."


The answer was silence. Then,


"We will use the humans."


At last! 


"Yes, your Ghin."


Silence, a glance at the view-screen.


"That makes you happy, does it not, Tir."


"I believe it to be a wise decision, as all of your decisions are wise, your Ghin."


"But slow to come, late. Without decisiveness, without, what is that human word? 'Élan.' "


The words of the aide's reply were carefully chosen. "Had the decision been reached sooner, there, perhaps, would have been greater profit. Certainly the loss would have been reduced."


A long minute later the answer: "The profit will be greater in the short run, surely. But at what loss in the long, Tir?"


"Surely the programs have taken effect. The humans are controllable."


"So thought the Rintar group."


"Those humans were half formed, brutish. They were unrefined and wild. The new races are much more malleable and well adjusted to technological controls. They are minimally dangerous and after the invasion the few that remain will be grateful for any bone we toss them."


Another long silence as the Ghin stared at the view-screen.


"Perhaps you are right, Tir. But I doubt it. Do you know why I am allowing the human project to go forward?"


"If you think the premise flawed, I wonder, yes."


Silence.


"Why?"


"Guess."


A pause, a breath, then a longer pause.


"Because we will lose many more worlds without their aid?"


"In small part. Tir, we will lose all the worlds without the humans."


"Your Ghin, our projections indicate that the Posleen will fail if slowed to their current rate, they will senesce. However, we stand to lose two hundred more worlds before that happens, surely an unacceptable loss."


"Those projections are flawed as our projections of the humans are flawed. At the end of this era the humans will be the masters and the Darhel will be an outcast race living on the edge of civilization scavenging the garbage. And your human project will be the cause."


The Tir carefully schooled his features. "I . . . question that projection, your Ghin."


"It isn't a projection, you young fool, it's a statement."


On the view-screen a world burned.


 


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Framed