The first attack came by starfall, by deathrise. Fire swept out of the darkness, past the great violet curve of the world of Nasteng, like coins from hell’s treasuries. Worse than the fire was the metal: creatures of variable form and singing cilia, joining together into colonial masses that floated high above the moon’s surface and dripped synthetic insects that ate geometer’s traps into its substance.
For decades Nasteng had escaped the notice of the galaxy’s wider culture. This was as its Council of Five preferred. They had a secret that other human civilizations would covet. So they hid behind masks of coral and dangling tassels and quantum jewels, and admitted only traders from the most discreet mercantile societies. Now, their secret had gotten out in spite of their precautions.
Thanks to Sonya Taaffe, Peter Berman, and Yune Kyung Lee. Published in Clarkesworld Magazine. Reprinted in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy: 2015, ed. Rich Horton.
Wine of immortality, dolls, and a general who is not, after all, only for show.