At the foot of the great dome, Varrain halted, his gem-bright eyes scanning the building with interest and disbelief. “The shell was erected over the landing site and the colony vessel on first establishment?” he asked.

“Yes. That’s how it’s done. The ship serves as a residence and refuge at first, and then once the dome is up and intact it can be cannibalised for whatever the colony needs. In this case it was mining materials, prefabrication additions, support structures for the primary shaft, that sort of thing.”

“At last, economy.”

“But the dome was abandoned,” Teyna said, her voice rising on the wind.

“Used for machine storage till it got too decrepit,” Estaban corrected her.

“But no hydroponics? It’s nearly all transparent plycrete. Think what you could be growing in there. A controlled environment already established...”

“It’s dangerous.”

“It has become so with neglect,” Araveyn told him. “Varrain?”

“It looks viable.”

Estaban turned on him. “It looks fine; but the supporting girders are oxidised to hell. The plycrete’s overstressed and the foundations are sawdust, where they exist at all! It’s madness to even...”

Varrain moved closer to the footings and reached out both hands. “It’s sad,” he said. “Lonely. It remembers voices and people who sang songs.” He ran his fingertips over the metalwork. “It forgets its reason for being.”

“S’Clare could help.” Araveyn nodded. “It’s weak,” he agreed, “but not to be despaired of.”

“Only despairing,” Anthero suggested.

“It’s a building!” Estaban protested. “Not a person!”

“Do you believe only people feel?” Nalarni asked curiously, joining Varrain at the wall. “I am not Mordma but there is strength here still. The channels of energy are twisted, depleted, turned aside, but they can be shown how they should be again. The memory of the pattern remains.”

“We have S’Clare with us, her skills at our touch,” Araveyn reminded them. His lips twisted slightly, almost into a smile. “With the power at the High Keeper’s disposal, a willing Healer and the Kar Varrain’s tongue, I see no obstacles.”

“Neither do I,” Varrain agreed. “So, my own. Shall we proceed?”

“To what end?” Teyna asked.

“As always.”

“I ask because our way is patently not the Urthan one, and to impose our will might, in some quarters, be seen as an unwarranted intrusion at least; at worst, as a threat to their independence. We have seen it before within the Protectorate.”

“Teyna, if we are slack in this we will learn to be slack. What must be done, must be done completely and with the full gift of the Circle. To do less is to fail the KarKahain and the law.”

Teyna smiled. “Good.”

“You think me swayed by sloth, chia?”

“No. I know you wish to be gone from here soon and this will delay our work elsewhere.”

“I think not. Our Keeper seems to thrive on depletion.”

“In some, pain becomes necessary,” Nalarni said quietly. “It is known by and among the Kreen. Some believe it sharpens a Maker’s skill.”

“Xavron’s no Maker.”

“Is he not?” Nalarni raised an eyebrow at him. “Perhaps you should take a second look at the Blaine Sourton.” Varrain regarded her with interest. “As I have said,” she repeated. “To work?”

“To work,” he agreed.

“Call the Circle; in this my hands are to the stone too.”

“Summoned and called,” Varrain stated, and the Circle flowed around him, each taking their established place as they completed the mind and body link and union of the Circle. It took less and less effort to join together; they moved now as one, the least touch or call and they opened to one another and the general familiarity of the Circle of itself.

“For life,” they said, their voices mingling to form one earnest whisper and around them and from them the light flamed, sudden as lightning and as bright.

Estaban fell back in shock; the Blaine at his command covered their eyes with their hands and cursed. Hal Heavitree slid from his understanding and became one of the Harket aliens as he too took on the glow of life as the Circle formed, enclosing him in itself and drawing its shared life force from him. As shock quietened the men at his side, the glow of the Circle dimmed for a moment and he could make out a blue star pulsing brightness on the forehead of each of the Harket; the light linked them skull to skull and faded almost before he realised three ribbons of light had raced off into the darkness as though questing for others of their kind, or to work their will elsewhere.

The Circle formed, was perfect, sure of itself and strong.

Varrain reached for the material fabric of the dome, grasping its greyed white and transparent plycrete with hands and mind, holding it to him like a treasured possession. For the security it promised for the people of Daydar IV, for Kniva, he cherished it and gave it his life force to rebuild itself with. Nalarni reached into the alien body, caught up the tangled and disrupted energy fields and nets of decay and held them true, while Araveyn remembered for them the structure of metals and stone that S’Clare lent them, the how it was and must be and how it would be again. Teyna fed growth into the web, the self-regenerative gift of plants, the knowledge of power latent in sunshine, energy that could be strength if channelled just so. She took the patterns within the plycrete and stone, warmed them, encouraged them to grow strong and brought them to blossom and fruition. Darni drew shields of resistance and resilience, powered Teyna’s roots down into the bedrock with grappling steels and the endurance of the Linshal Warthain. He wove the resolution to defend against all odds into the girders and supports, braced them with a thousand warrior tricks and stanchioned them with experience. Power laced through the quiet words Varrain spoke, as he described the beauty of the dome, its form and function, its grace and the gift of itself, shelter and protection for those who would come, the wonder he felt for it and the essence of its created spirit.

“And thou art fair,” he whispered, “glorious to behold, a citadel of joy for the people, a rare device shining in the darkness, strong as time, sure as the sunlight, rooted in the eternal rock. Nothing shall prevail against thee, open to the children of Urth, open to the generations of their kind, strong for them and praised by them forever...”

The energy depleted them; the dome was vast, a great cathedral dome stretching far across the plateau, its dust falling over the hands that held it and caressed it, blessed it with their devotion and the life-force of the Circle. Dead material heard, absorbed the offered gift of their souls and drank the Circle dry. They wavered. Their glow died.

Anthero grasped the mechanics of the construction, translated mathematics to need and directed what little energy still came to him from the Circle, adding the last dregs of his own strength, and gave it all to the dome.

Failure faced them all; empty, they tasted defeat, knowing it would drag them down into it and they would age and decay and die, even as the dome died...