Key to Liberty [ChroMagic Series Book 4]
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by Piers Anthony
Category: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Description: Shortly after the planet Charm was colonized 1,000 years ago, Earth finally suffered World War III. Almost everyone was destroyed and those remaining fell into a barbarian society when technology was lost. To prevent future wars, Earth's women took control and governed with a more sensible approach. Over the next thousand years, Earth rebuilt itself to an advanced technological power again and now needed more resources for its continued existence and growth. To fulfill their needs, Earth's lost colonies must be found and brought back under control. Now Earth has sent a ship with a planet-busting bomb to reclaim the colony Charm, and it appears that the only way Havoc and his planet can survive the invasion is if his children are sacrificed as hostages.
eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, 2007 2007
eBookwise Release Date: July 2007
37 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [969 KB]
Reading time: 612-857 min.
"Chroma continues to fascinate, making readers anxious for the final book in the trilogy. Changelings don't only attract fellow characters, they draw the readers to themselves as well."--Amanda Killgore, Scribes World
He arrived at the edge of the illusion field on Planet Counter Charm. He was in a comprehensive forest, standing before a shimmering veil.
Then Voila was there, fifteen and modest in appearance, a girl few would notice, by her own choice. She could be radiantly beautiful, or hideously ugly, but preferred what she termed "wallflower mode." "Sire," she said, and moved into his embrace. Her mind was closed.
"Daughter," he said. Her extreme formality, even here, was ominous.
Then they held hands and stepped into the edge of the adjacent field.
The change was instant. They had been on a path in a forest; now they were in a burning desert. Voila looked like a standing six legged pig, and Havoc's own arm resembled the limb of a similar animal. He spoke, but his voice was a guttural oink. She responded with a feminine squeal.
That was of course why they maintained hand contact. The illusions changed all senses but one, and that one had to be fought for. They focused, and in a moment recovered their voices as they walked slowly on through the desert.
"What is it, Voila?" he asked.
"Father, it's here. The Second Crisis."
He was amazed. "Why couldn't it be something simple, like your falling in love with a married woman?"
The pig grimaced. "I would rather do that than this. This is the big one."
Havoc quickly reviewed the situation. There were three major crises impending. The first had been the struggle between the Glamors and Mino, the alien machine. Voila had taken him on in a contest of future vision when she was only six months old, and defeated him, winning his loyalty to the folk of the two magic planets. The third crisis would be when the terrible devices of Mino's home culture came to mine the planets, destroying them in the process. The second crisis was undefined. Until now.
"Speak," he said seriously.
"Earth Planet is coming to recover her colony. Mino perceived their unit coming but could not clearly identify its nature, as it was both life and machine. He summoned me, and together we fathomed it: a space ship containing a crew of human beings. It possesses weapons of White Chroma we can't safely balk. Mino could, but that would reveal his nature to the enemy. It is too early for that."
"Science magic," Havoc agreed. "But they shouldn't work beyond their Chroma."
"The ship carries its Chroma with it, and the weapons are large enough to do the same," she said. "Mino understands this better than I do; it is the way he functions regardless of external Chroma. They have what he calls a bomb that can destroy our planet. We can't stop them directly."
"Which means we shall have to negotiate," Havoc said.
"Mino says they will accept only our immediate subservience. They will depose you and put in a regent who answers directly to Earth. Charm will be a colony again."
The pig smiled. "Do I know that word, Father?"
"Naturally not, innocent child. Delete it from your tender memory. I am merely annoyed about being deposed."
"But you didn't even want to be king, Father," she said teasingly.
"How do you know? As I recall, you weren't there."
"Ennui told me, of course."
"That woman is a personal pain in the posterior."
"And your oath friend. The one you trust before all others."
"Who pretty well runs the kingdom, covering for my inattention."
"Mom says that if it wasn't for Ennui, you would have messed up much worse than you did, at the beginning."
"Ennui and the Lady Aspect," he agreed. "They took the barbarian in hand and made a king of me."
"And Symbol. Without women you'd be nothing."
"So you say. But you would; you're one of them."
"Oh Father, I love you." There was a tear in the pig's eye. "Hold me."
He embraced her and held her close. He felt her shivering porcine body, and increasingly her mind, as her control loosened. She was truly awed and frightened. That was itself awing and frightening, because Voila was as potent and confident a person as existed, for excellent reason.
And she did have reason for her emotion, for with their mind linkage came more information on her role in the near future. She was the center of a horrendous nexus that put her situation in peril. Yet that was only an aspect of a much greater threat that concerned the entire Planet of Charm. As with the first crisis, everything oriented on her. It was an overwhelming responsibility she could not avoid.
"Who knows?" he asked grimly.
"Mino. Idyll. Me You."
"Gale and Ennui must suspect."
"I love you. I would take this from you if I could."
"I know, Father. No one can take it from me."
They separated and resumed progress through the illusion fields. The desert vanished, replaced by a heaving sea, and they were three-winged birds floating on it. Their plumage was light brown, matching their hair and eyes in normal life. Any stranger would know them for father and daughter, and they liked it that way.
"What do you, Mino, and Idyll fathom?"
"It's vague as yet, but coming clearer. The odds are against us if we oppose Earth openly; they have the means to destroy Charm, if suitably aroused. The odds are for our survival if we capitulate at the outset."
"The odds remain against us if we feign surrender and plot against them. They are experienced at dealing with unruly colonies."
"The choice is between defeat and destruction?"
"There is an intermediate path. That is the one I bestride. Mino says it leads to mergence with Earth on acceptable terms. It leads to significant complications we can't yet fathom, but is the one we must navigate."
"Pain. We dare not risk you, beloved child."
"The choices are risk or loss."
He knew it. His own awareness of the near future was coming into play. It was not nearly as strong as hers, but was enough to satisfy him that she was correct.
They left the sea and were in an orchard with many fruiting trees. Here they were themselves; they had emerged from the illusion fields. They followed the path to a central glade. "Idyll," Voila called.
A shimmer appeared in the air. "I respond, Voila, Havoc." The words were ordinary sound, emanating from the shimmer.
"Glamor of the Ifrits, we need you," Havoc said.
"As we need you," Idyll agreed. "The risk is to Counter-Charm too, and not subject to nullification in the prior manner."
"Voila is at the center of the intermediate path. Who else is there?"
"All your children, Havoc. They are central; others are peripheral."
This was even worse than he had thought. "All? Warp, Weft, Flame? Gale will freak."
"But she will recover," Voila said.
"They should be here," Idyll said.
"Summon them," Havoc agreed with resignation. "And Gale."
A handsome black-haired black-eyed youth appeared. "Hi, Pa. Hi, brat. What's happening here?"
"We are at the second crisis, Warp," Havoc said. "The four of you are central."
Warp sat down suddenly on air, as if using an invisible chair. "Just like that? What is it?"
"Earth is coming to reclaim her colony."
"And we can't fight," Warp said, picking it up from their minds. "So we have to finesse."
A healthy slender red-haired young woman appeared, wearing the garb of the Amazons. "I was practicing," Flame said. "Couldn't wait to change. What's so urgent?"
"Read my mind, hot stuff," Warp said.
Flame did. "Hooo!" she said, blowing out a burning breath. "We're in for a fight."
A striking blonde appeared. That was Weft, who had in the past two years filled out into a startlingly shapely woman, and who made the most of it. She spied the four instantly, and oriented on Havoc. "Tell me, dad."
Havoc smiled as he opened his mind to her. "You know I'd marry you if I weren't your father."
"That's no necessary barrier," Weft said. "Just divorce mom and I'm yours."
Warp and Voila put up with the familiar by-play. Weft had always had a thing for Havoc, and the flowering of her femininity had only intensified it. The fact was that they were genetically unrelated, she having been adopted, so it was biologically permissible. They all knew it would never happen, which was why they felt free to banter. Within a year Weft would marry elsewhere, reluctantly; that might make it fade.
"Now if you're quite done, Electra," Flame said, "We have serious business."
Weft had read it in Havoc's mind. "Do we ever, hothead! The Second Crisis!"
"It seems that the four of us must go to Earth," Voila said.
Gale appeared. "I had to roust out my mock on practically no notice," she said, exasperated. "What is so expletive important as to require this meeting?"
"Mother, it's the Second Crisis," Voila said. "We're in the center."
Gale paused, assimilating that. "I would rather we had all lost our ikons."
"Close, Ma," Warp said. "We'll have to take the ikons along."
"To a White Chroma planet? Disaster."
"We believe that no planet is pure single-Chroma," Idyll said from her shimmer. "Mino reports that the machine culture explored thousands, and found none that were, up to the time of his own assignment here. There must be other Chroma and nonChroma on Earth. They will have to find them."
This was new to Havoc. "Why?"
"Earth possesses weapons of Science magic we can't oppose without rousing dangerous suspicion. Our own White Chroma efforts fall way short. We can try to nullify the weapons of the warship coming here, but this will have to be a matter of corrupting the human personnel rather than magic. When that occurs, Earth will simply send another ship, perhaps a robot that can not be corrupted. We have to nullify Earth itself, and we believe that can best be accomplished by converting it to a full Chroma planet. If Earth becomes like us, it should be less interested in destroying us for our independence."
"This is feasible?"
"We ifrits have labored for millennia on the problem of converting Chroma, as it is vital to our nature. We believe we have distilled the Chroma essence that will shift one Chroma to another, in a matter of a few months after seeding. Earth's volcanoes are said to be all White Chroma. They should be convertible. The problem is getting people there to do it."
"But why our children?" he demanded.
"Only Glamors can accomplish it, and we think we can get these particular ones to Earth."
"By allowing the Earthers to take them hostage against your acquiescence to Earth's dominance of your planet."