Chapter 28

Conmer took a deep breath, letting the scent of the electronic paper seep into his soul. It smelled of secrets. Of conspiracy, betrayal, and cooperation. Of stories – the sort that other species only saw in movies and books. It was an ancient technology, made to hide the most dangerous of words. The pixels woven into the plastic pages had been used to keep knowledge of the first rosearn space craft out of the public eye, leaving most rosearn to wonder what lay outside the airlocks of their home world, Tyur’son. Before they met the Alliance, the very concept of other planets was only a whispered theory among those precious few rosearn in the know.
“Lock and key.” Once more the letters rippled into a new shape, this time returning to their false cover. “I want to make a deal with the devil, and challenge her throne of lies.” Conmer flipped through the pages of the book, watching as they stopped in the middle of their previous transformation and began to revert to their true nature. He could do this all day. The smug satisfaction of knowing that electronic paper was considered an urban legend even among rosearn was usually more than enough to wash away the weekly stress. Not today, though. Today Conmer needed something more.
“Let’s see…” Page 32, page 36, page 39… Ah! There it was, page 41! “How a Good Rosearn Lives Her Life, part 1: The Eight Rules.” It was always nice to take some time and remember why it was he tried so hard in the first place. “Rule 1, you are safest when you know you are in danger. Trouble is always waiting, and you can only be safe if you are ready for it.” Wise words, confidence had been the downfall of many great women – and the reason behind several of his own failures as well. Come to think of it, he needed to check his cabin’s soundproofing later. Just to make sure no one had tampered with it. “Rule 2, never complain. If you can solve your problem, do so. If you cannot, it is your own inability, and others should not be burdened with your failures.” That one was Conmer’s favorite, it was what had motivated him to stand up and try again after he’d lost everything so long ago.
“Rule 3, never blame the winner. For better or worse, this world belongs to the clever. It’s your own fault for being fooled.” Conmer had always had trouble with this one. It was difficult not to hold a grudge against the people that screwed him over, even though he knew he would have done the same. “Rule 4, never take revenge. To focus on destruction is to ignore where you could benefit and only serves to bring new enemies.” He’d always felt that one was redundant; the old fable about three foxes playing Politics made the point much better. “Rule 5, ability is the greatest virtue, for good will is meaningless without the skill to change anything.” A long time ago, he would have debated this rule. Not anymore.
“Rule 6, always pursue your own desires, be they benevolent or selfish, they are still yours. Even when you lie to everyone else, be honest to yourself.” Conmer thought he was doing pretty well with this rule, not that he’d know if he’d messed up. He was more than good enough at lying to completely dupe himself. “Rule 7, never kill. Killing is what doomed our ancient enemies, and it is what will doom our modern ones.” It was pretty clear the author of the Devil’s Contract was referring to the Alliance in this part. She was probably upset about the whole “burning the Devil’s Receipt, the single most important cultural artifact in rosearn history” deal. To be fair, though, basically every rosearn was still pissed about that. It was why they’d agreed to join the Alliance in the first place, to make sure such a tragedy never happened again.
“Rule 8, never betray your friends. The pain of life is as inevitable as its end, but friends are the ones who will carry your soul to safety after you pass.” Ah, yes. This rule. It was the only one of the eight that had ever steered him wrong. In retrospect, though, that was more due to his own weakness than the rule itself.


A note from the author ninja:

I present to you, the Fable of the Foolishly Feuding Foxes! (Rosearn do love their wordplay, don’t they?) It may seem a little odd to humans, since Politics is an ancient rosearn card game. All you really need to know, though, is that the game consists mostly of people making “proposals” that the other players then proceed to vote on.

“Once upon a time, there were three little foxes that loved to play cards together. One day they decided to play a game they’d never played before, a game the rosearn called Politics. They were betting pieces of stolen food, chatting, and having an all around pleasant evening. Then, on her fifteenth turn, the first little fox made a proposal, one that was sure to lose the second little fox the game!”

“Of course, the second little fox simply couldn’t stand for this. If she lost, what would happen to all that delicious food she’d stolen? So she came up with a plan, and made a proposal that was sure to make the first little fox lose instead. This upset the first little fox, so she retaliated the only way she could: by making another horrible proposal that was guaranteed to make the second little fox lose. When it didn’t work, the second little fox retaliated again, and by now, little children, I’m sure you all know where this is going.”

“You aren’t the only ones who saw where this was going, though. The third little fox also saw what was happening, and she had a plan. A wonderful plan to get all the food for herself, and teach the other two little foxes a lesson. So, she remained almost entirely neutral, sometimes making a proposal that would hurt the second little fox a tiny bit, sometimes making a proposal that would hurt the first little fox a tiny bit- and always making sure her proposals benefited her. Of course, the two feuding little foxes never failed to vote for a proposal that would hurt their rival, so every one of the third little foxes proposals passed.”

“And so, on it went. Turn, after turn, after turn. Over and over, until it was finally done. Everyone had placed their bets and turned their cards face up. Do you know who won? That’s right, the third little fox. Her hand was the best, because the other two little foxes had been so distracted ruining their rival’s hand, that they’d forgotten to build up their own. So, naturally, the third little fox walked off with a feast, while the other two little foxes felt like fools for having been tricked so easily.”

A cute little story, isn’t it? If you enjoyed it, you might be interested to know that the rosearn home world of Tyur’son never had a native population of foxes. Instead, foxes are a mythological creature, known for the clever tricks they play on people, and their tendency to adopt rosearn children as apprentices. Because of this, the rosearn often compliment particularly cunning people by saying that they must have been “raised by foxes.”

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