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Authors: A. M. Dellamonica

A Daughter of No Nation

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For Peter Watts and Caitlin Sweet, who came together in defiance of biological reality

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A Daughter of No Nation
could not exist if I wasn't blessed with an abundant network of generous and inspiring people. Always at its heart, and in mine, is my remarkable and brilliant wife, Kelly Robson.

I owe much to my family—Tuckers, Millars, and Robsons alike, and to my wonderful siblings: Michelle, Sherelyn, Susan, and Bill. My friends do everything from reading drafts, explaining research concepts, and providing moral support when I am flailing: thanks are due to Beverly Bambury, Charlene Challenger, Nicki Hamilton, Michael Matheson, Dawn-Marie Pares, Chris Szego, Rebecca Stefoff, and Matt Youngmark.

I am grateful to my agent, Linn Prentis; my editor, Stacy Hill; the outstanding staff at
Tor.com
and Raincoast Books; and all the editors, writers, and mentors who've guided me, including: Madeline Ashby, Ellen Datlow, Don DeBrandt, Gardner Dozois, Claude Lalumière, David Nickle, Jessica Reisman, Alexandra Renwick, Nancy Richler, Steven Silver, Caitlin Sweet, and Harry Turtledove.

When you're writing ecofantasy, it's essential to ground your magic in some faint sense of reality. My colleagues at SF Novelists helped with everything from research details to brainstorming titles. Mark Bowman and Gordon Love checked my scuba diving details. Peter Watts has shown extraordinary patience, over the years, with my arty, drama-geek approach to magicking up the laws of the universe. Ramona Roberts, meanwhile, helps with the laws crafted by people. Walter Jon Williams got me started on resources for tall ships. They're lovely, smart, generous people, and you should know that any errors in what passes for science, language, or sailing procedure within this book were made by me despite their best efforts.

I am one of those people who do much of their creative work out in a café environment, and all of the Stormwrack books were drafted in the remarkable Café Calabria on Commercial Drive in Vancouver. The space made available to writers (along with everyone else in the neighborhood) by the Murdocco family was like a second home to me. It was a privilege to work there and I still miss it. But since I moved to Toronto in 2013, I've been revising these books at the marvelous Portland Variety on King Street.

You all made it possible for me to set sail on this journey, and I owe you.

 

CHAPTER    
1

The blond woman had chapped fingertips with ragged, oft-gnawed nails, and she was half her attacker's size. His hand around her throat obscured it entirely. The padded glove bulged like a crash collar, wedged between her chin and shoulders.

He was making to drag her away when she let out a half-strangled shriek and stomped his left foot. It wasn't much of a blow, but he staggered … and, better, hesitated. She jabbed an elbow into his rib cage, then wriggled free of his grip, mostly by virtue of falling at his feet.

She scrambled away at a run, screaming at the top of her lungs, “No, no, no!”

Once she reached the far end of the dojo, she spun, improvising a victory dance.

The rest of the self-defense class bellowed approval from the sidelines. The foam-swaddled attacker, whose name was Marc, put up a hand, acknowledging defeat.

“Sophie, you're next.”

Sophie Hansa stretched, exchanged high fives with the blonde, and took her place on the mat.

The class was meant to help women who might otherwise freeze in a fight, to get them past any retrograde ladylike sense of hesitation over hitting someone. The idea was to make wrestling and punch-throwing more familiar and comfortable, to simulate the mock—and not so mock—fighting that little boys allegedly got into throughout childhood.

“Okay,” their instructor, Diane, said. “You're not expecting trouble. Where are you?”

Sophie fought an interior sigh as a handful of improbable answers occurred: on a climb in Nepal or in a yellow submarine. Aboard the great Verdanii sailing ship
Breadbasket,
in a world these earnest women would never hear of. But six sessions in this fluorescent-lit room, with its smell of feet and tension, had given her plenty of time to come to grips with the group's expectations.

“Coming out of a bar.”

“Drunk?”

“Just tipsy.”

“Where's your car?”

“Parked in a well-lit—”

Diane's role was to ask questions until Sophie at least half-forgot Marc was back there, but this time he went for surprise by jumping in right away. The flat of his hand struck the small of her back. Sophie all but face-planted into the mat.

“Roll!” someone shouted.

It was too late to somersault back to her feet like some kind of cartoon warrior. She flung herself sideways instead, wheezing. He'd winded her.

Marc was already pouncing, dragging her by her shoulder and a handful of her hair.

Sophie turned her head sharply. It was enough to pull her curls out of the glove as she grabbed for his eyes with her free hand. She got a grip on the mesh mask, remembered she was supposed to be screaming, let out one breathless “No!” and went for the knee to the groin …

 … and, briefly, remembered trying a similar move on a bona-fide monster, its hot, rotten breath and the slick of blood on the floor …

Then she flashed on the sound of her aunt's neck, snapping.

Her knee came up, right on target, and it was a good hit, hard contact.

Mark let her go but didn't pretend to collapse.

“We're over the line,” he said gently.

It was true. He'd yanked her over the white chalk smear, the imaginary boundary between life and death.

“Nice try, Sophie, but he got you,” Diane affirmed as Sophie sucked air past the shards of glass in her lungs. “Elke, you're up.”

Yeah,
Sophie thought, I'm quite the action hero.

After everyone had had a turn, they practiced clobbering inanimate foam targets as hard as they could, yelling “Commit, commit, commit!” with every blow. Then they stretched and debriefed on everyone's success in fighting off—or, in her case,
not
fighting off—Marc.

“Go home and be safe,” Diane said finally, a benediction and a dismissal all in one.

The class was held in a San Francisco community center, a low-slung brick building painted with kids' murals.

“No ride today?” a classmate asked as they stepped out into the parking lot. Sophie suspected her classmate had a bit of a crush on her brother. She'd told the woman Bram was gay, but her enthusiasm for him hadn't dimmed.

Scanning the lot for her brother's car, Sophie shook her head. “It's cool. I'll catch BART as far as—”

A honk interrupted her.

Her heart sank as she recognized her mother.

Ambushed!
She checked her phone, but there was no text from Bram.

Regina Hansa was already cracking the passenger door.

“How did it go?” she asked, as though they did this every week. Her mother had always favored car rides for parent-child heart-to-hearts. No escape that way.

Sophie pressed herself inside, through the thick air. “I got a few good shots in.”

They sat for a minute in silence, her mom not going anywhere, not saying anything. It was a good tactic—Sophie never could let a silence stretch.

“How'd you find me?”

“Bram's got that creepy stalker app installed on his phone. It shows your GPS location.”

“You stole Bram's phone?”

“Borrowed.” Her mother held it up.

Sophie managed to retrieve the phone without snatching it. “I don't know what you're thinking, but—”

“I'm thinking that when your father and I came home from Sicily you were limping and mopey.”

“I don't mope!”

“You finally defended your thesis, and then you turned down the job interview at the Scripps Institute. Then there's all the training. I'd just about convinced myself you wanted to apply to the space program. Instead I find you taking”—her mother's voice rose—“self-defense classes.”

“Mom! Nobody's attacked me.”

Her mother unknotted slightly.

She decided I'd been raped just as soon as she realized what I was doing here,
Sophie thought.

“I'm sorry,” she said. “You weren't meant to worry.”

“I wasn't meant to know about this at all, was I?” Regina started the car and pulled out into the light fog.

Where to begin?
“I'm taking the class because … I'm filling time. I already told you, I'm waiting to hear about a sailing gig.”

“The one you can't tell us about.”

“It's not the space program. I thought the self-defense class would be—”

“Fun?”

This was the point where she should say yes, but Sophie was a rotten liar. Instead, she let out her breath in a whuff.

“Useful? Like the extra math drills and the knot-tying and the triathlon training and all the time you spend just looking at pictures of, I don't know, sea snails and apparently trying to memorize every single species in the ocean?”

“A little training can never hurt, can it?”

“Training for what? If it's not NASA, and you haven't been attacked … are you
expecting
to be?”

That was getting uncomfortably close to the truth. “Mom, watch the road.”

“I found the pepper spray on your key ring.”

“It's not like that.” Or it was, but hopefully that was a onetime outlier of a horrible experience.

“It's not enough that you jump out of airplanes and risk the bends and shark bites every time you go off to pursue your so-called videography career.…”

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