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Authors: Michael J. Martinez

Tags: #Fiction

The Venusian Gambit

BOOK: The Venusian Gambit

Praise for The Daedalus Series:

The Daedalus Incident

“A true genre-bender. It mixes alchemy, quantum physics, and historical figures in ways you haven’t seen before. […] adventurous, original, and a blast to read.”

“Genre bending often come at great peril, but Martinez pulls it off with an assurance that makes all the pieces slot together perfectly.”

, selected as one of “The 14 Greatest Science Fiction Books of the Year”

“Martinez’s debut is a triumph of genre-blending, as steampunk adventure merges with modern space opera. With a cast of superbly drawn characters, Martinez’s title is a mesmerizing tale of two universes that briefly cross paths, leaving both worlds forever changed.”

Library Journal
(starred review), included in “Best Books 2013: SF/Fantasy” year-end wrap-up

The Enceladus Crisis

“A follow-up that manages to improve on the first in significant ways […] continues the first novel’s mix of alchemy, intrigue, mystery, science fiction and high adventure into an entertaining package.”

—Paul Weimer,

“Wooden sailing ships battling it out in orbit around Mercury, Earth astronauts discovering an ancient alien temple on one of Saturn’s moons, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, undead French soldiers, Venusian jungles, and corporate espionage. Michael J. Martinez pulls it all off magnificently in his Daedalus series of novels.”

—James Floyd Kelly,

“Riveting…a uniquely imaginative science fantasy tale.”

Publishers Weekly

Books by Michael J. Martinez

The Daedalus Incident

The Enceladus Crisis

The Venusian Gambit

The Gravity of the Affair

Copyright © 2015 by Michael J. Martinez

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Night Shade Books, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018.

Night Shade books may be purchased in bulk at special discounts for sales promotion, corporate gifts, fund-raising, or educational purposes. Special editions can also be created to specifications. For details, contact the Special Sales Department, Night Shade Books, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018 or
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Night Shade Books® is a registered trademark of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.®, a Delaware corporation.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

Print ISBN: 978-1-59780-819-4

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-59780-825-5

Cover illustration by Lauren Saint-Onge

Cover art and design by Victoria Maderna and Federico Piatti

Print interior layout and design by Amy Popovich

Printed in the United States of America

In memory of my mom



4,122 B.C.

ars will rise once more.

That is what the Martian told himself as he looked out over the cities of the Xan, laid before him in splendor, spread across the rings of mighty Xanath and trailing off into the distance of the Void, a riot of light and color circling the planet.

It was terrible beauty, a reminder of his failure, and the last view of this universe he would likely ever see.

The Martian—no longer a warlord, now a mere prisoner—turned away from the window in disgust. His accommodations now as a captive of the Xan were far more luxurious than the ones he’d chosen for himself as leader of the Martian people. His cell—for it
a cell despite its trappings—included a cushioned bed, a chair, books, even a device that would allow him to listen to the mewlings these Xan called “music.” He did not use any of these. He did not wear the robes given to him. He sat and slept on the floor. He meditated. He was allowed two servants—those reptilian savages from the wilds of Venus—but he did not use them. The trappings remained untouched. Despite it all—the loss of his armies, his weapons, his very homeworld—Althotas of Mars remained singularly fixated on victory. No matter how long it took.

A soft melodic chime—damn these Xan and their soft sounds!—drew his attention to the door. It opened to reveal four Xan, hooded and armed, with the two little Venusian servants flanking them. In the seven Mars-years since Althotas had been imprisoned, he had seen the Xan transform before his very eyes. When he first arrived, his guards were true soldiers, armored and armed with projectile weapons capable of killing any creature on impact. Now, those who dared call themselves guards and soldiers wore voluminous layers of cloth. The weapons were now staves, tipped with a canny device that would shock and stun their targets, rendering them ineffective but alive.

It was laughable, this softness. Yet, Althotas knew, these creatures had beaten him. As much derision as he had for the Xan’s newfound pacificity, he constantly reminded himself that somehow—
they had beaten him. And perhaps it was his own people’s martial ways that awakened the rage and determination necessary for the Xan to rise. Perhaps the Xan simply needed a suitable target before they unleashed their hidden barbarity—for barbarity it was. They had little sense of true honor in the throes of battle, and he expected none from them now.

“Althotas, the council has reached a determination,” the lead Xan sang, its two mouths creating harmonies that sounded somber and excited all at once. “You are required to accompany us.”

Althotas looked down at his clawed green hands and saw them clenching involuntarily. His very essence was that of a warrior. His first instinct was to rip these “guards” apart with his bare hands, to flee captivity, to rage through their cities and gather an army to him.

But there was no army. The Martians were as dead as their planet. And the Xan would not follow him. Not these Xan, at least. He could see from his perch the battles upon the rings, both near and far. As ironic as it seemed, in the aftermath of the great Martian-Xan war it was the Xan’s pacifist political party that emerged victorious to lead the Xan into the future. The warrior caste was being hunted. The pacifists were now in charge.

Wordlessly, his body trembling with disciplined rage, Althotas walked through the door and down the carpeted hallway, his guards scurrying to keep up. Althotas knew the way to the Xan’s so-called Temple of Justice. He had been going back and forth between his cell and the temple for many long days.

It was about time the damnable council had reached a determination. Althotas was a warrior of Mars, first and foremost, and a leader of his people. Sitting and waiting in captivity was anathema, much as a fish slowly, inexorably expired upon dry land. He would still watch closely to see if these soft Xan would provide him even a sliver of opportunity. But he knew, deep down, that they would take no chances. All he could hope for was death, honorable and painful, one that would allow him to show these creatures true greatness in the end.

Down stairways and through halls and salons, past gossiping clusters of Xan whispering harmonically amongst themselves, Althotas walked toward his fate. The smooth stone and glass of the Xan buildings were in stark contrast to the rough-hewn fortresses of Mars. The Xan reveled in their aesthetics, with ornamentation meant to show beauty and peace on nearly every surface. And yet there was no virtue in the looks he received from the Xan as he passed them, only fear and loathing. He returned these stares with a smile that showed his razor teeth, and reveled in the double standard of these people. Beauty and peace only lasted so long as he was not there to remind them of their own crimes.

Finally, he stormed toward the massive double-doors leading into the Temple of Justice’s inner sanctum, pushing through them impatiently and striding into the chamber. The guards behind him immediately rushed forward, flanking him on either side, staves at the ready. He proceeded to the circle where all inquiry subjects stood, lit brightly while the rest of the temple was shrouded in complete blackness. There, around the area in which he had stood nigh daily for such long years, were a series of devices. Small boxes, connected by a cord, reeking of ozone…Althotas could practically taste the occult and alchemical power flowing through them.

The Xan had, apparently, come up with something new. Perhaps there would be new agonies, ones that would not shed blood. Would the pacifist Xan find the same pleasure in torturing their enemies that their war-obsessed brethren had? He did not break stride as he strode toward the circle. Without being prompted, he stepped over the ring of devices and into the circle. It was the same place where he stood and was tried for so many months. He could see the scratches in the floor where his foot-talons rested as he listened to the Xan’s intolerable singing of justice and peace.

“Althotas,” a voice boomed.

“I am here,” the one-time warlord shouted, his voice a raspy buzz compared to the melodic Xan that had addressed him from the darkness. The cowards never showed themselves, not for all this time. It was, he was told, to show the unity of the Xan people in the face of injustice. Althotas knew it for what it was, however. They were trying to place themselves at a remove from their vengeance. They were afraid of what they had done to Phaeton, to Mars itself. They had wielded such immense force in the last days of the war—such destructive power indeed! They had razed verdant Mars into a red desert, and proud Phaeton, one-time colony of Mars, was now a million boulders, scattered around the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.

Of course they would distance themselves from that. Because they were as children. The Martians knew that life
conflict. And pain. And power.

Even if you lose.

“It is the finding of this council that you are indeed guilty of numerous war crimes. You have broken the laws governing conflict between individuals, conflict between nations and conflict between worlds,” the disembodied Xan voice sang.

“These are your laws, not mine,” Althotas hissed. “the conduct of our war was done in accordance with the highest honor of my people. So pass your sentence and be done with it.”

“There is more,” the Xan continued. “Recent inquiries have shown that you are also guilty of violating the laws governing alchemical practice, occult practice and scientific inquiry.”

A second spotlight flared to life from above, shining down upon a stone altar in the center of the room. There, Althotas saw two very familiar items—a green stone slab and a black-covered book.

“You have used these items to draw the souls from your people and place them in the bodies of others. This plague has been placed upon the lizard creatures of the second world and the ape creatures of the third world, but also upon the Xan themselves,” the voice said. “Dozens of souls. Hundreds.”

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