Through Fire (Darkship Book 4)

BOOK: Through Fire (Darkship Book 4)
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Table of Contents

THROUGH FIRE

SARAH A. HOYT

Baen Books

Through Fire

Sarah A. Hoyt

A new chapter in Hoyt's celebrated Darkship series dawns with revolution on Earth as the Good Men fall.

DOWN WITH THE TYRANNY OF THE GOOD MEN!

A spaceship mechanic has no place in a fairytale. But now Zen Sienna finds herself in a beautiful palace being courted by the ruler of vast lands. Yet soon Zen is caught up in a revolution that comes a bit too close to imitating the original French revolution—complete with beheadings.  Swept up in a turmoil of fire and blood, she must find her footing. Torn by divided loyalties, unexpectedly in charge of protecting the innocent while trying to stop the guilty, Zen discovers both her inner strength and discovers who will remain true friends and comrades, and who will be revealed as enemies in disguise waiting to strike!

Through the fire of revolution and war, Zen must earn her citizenship on Earth and find her place in a world that's totally changed.

BAEN BOOKS by SARAH A. HOYT

Draw One in the Dark

Gentleman Takes a Chance

Noah’s Boy

Night Shifters
(forthcoming)

Darkship Thieves

Darkship Renegades

A Few Good Men

Through Fire

Through Fire

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Sarah A. Hoyt

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN: 978-1-4814-8245-5

Cover art by David Mattingly

First Baen printing, August 2016

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Pages by Joy Freeman (www.pagesbyjoy.com)

Printed in the United States of America

eISBN: 978-1-62579-496-3

Electronic Version by Baen Books

www.baen.com

In Memoriam:

Alan L. Lickiss 1962–2014

Matthew Benjamin Landry 1975–2015

Until we meet again.

LIBERTE

When Worlds Collide

A spaceship mechanic has no place in a fairy tale, not even when she’s dressed in a flowing gown and being courted by one of Earth’s most powerful men.

I was designed to be able to repair spaceships and to navigate them home safely. I had calluses on my hands from working with heavy tools on delicate machinery. I was strong enough to kill a grown man with a casual blow. And I had a burner strapped to my ankle under my ball-gown.

The man courting me was a scoundrel, a dictator, and likely a murderer. And we were dancing at a spun-sugar palace, atop a fairy-tale seacity. It was his ballroom, his palace and his seacity. He was my only protector on Earth and my host for the last six months. He wanted me. He had been gentle and caring and solicitous of me. I wanted to escape the happy-ever-after fairy-tale ending.

You should be careful what you wish for.

It was a relief when the palace exploded.

We’d been dancing, Simon and I and more than a hundred other couples, twirling on the black polished dimatough floor of his ballroom while the light of massive chandeliers shone from softly glistening white walls.

It used to be the palace of the Good Man of Liberte seacity. Simon was a Good Man, one of fifty hereditary rulers who, between them, split the vastness and wealth of the Earth. Or at least he had been.

The people gathered in the ballroom sported outfits that seemed to be spun of butterfly wings, and that defied the shape of the human body. Other clothing harked back to the fantastical age of empires almost seven hundred years before—long, sweeping dresses and molding outfits in materials that were better than velvet and silk. My own dress was made of a form of ceramic. It felt like satin to the touch, but its dull black heft shone with pinpoints of light, as if stars had got caught in its depths. Simon had picked it for me and had it carried in by proud couturiers that very morning, its fine, slippery folds wrapped in silk and beribboned, like a fantastic gift.

Liberte seacity had been formed by a bankers’ consortium at the close of the twenty-first century, and like the other seacities back then it was created as a refuge from high taxes and excessive government regulation and oversight. Unlike other seacities, it had never been designed to host any industry, any useful output. Instead, it owned other seacities—Shangri-la, Xanadu and, later, after the Fish War, several European territories—where the workday business took place. Liberte itself had been designed as a resort for those at the pinnacle of that long-vanished world. Idyllic beaches climbed up through terraces with carefully landscaped gardens, like a dream of an Arcadia that never was. Its inevitable utilitarian levels—where valets and maids, law enforcers and garbage collectors lived—were hidden, out of sight, by ceilings that formed the ground of the next level.

Approaching Liberte from the air, as I’d first done, one saw it only as a sort of white and green confection, something like an idealized wedding cake.

The palace of the Good Man topped the cake: white and surrounded by columns and terraces, built with an airy grace that would have been impossible without poured dimatough and sculpted ceramite. It might have fitted a previous age’s dream of a fairy palace, an immortal fantasy.

The ballroom sat at the very top of it all, and its walls alternated with vast panels of transparent dimatough, through which—as the night fell—you could watch the sea, glistening in every direction, all around us, blue and still like a perfect mirror.

As we twirled to a tune called “Liberte” and composed for this ball, I faltered. I looked through the window at the troop transports moored in that smooth sea. I’d known they were there: a vast, dark menace that encircled us, the much larger forces massed against Simon and the other rebels against the regime of the Good Men that had held the Earth for three hundred years. Simon and the other rebels were, at least in theory, trying to free their particular portions of the world. Even if I had my doubts about Simon’s sincerity.

“Why are you looking out the window?” asked Simon St. Cyr,
ci-devant
Good Man of Liberte seacity, who, by a stroke of the pen, had made himself “Protector of the People and Head of the Glorious Revolution.”

He was slightly shorter than I, had brown hair and brown eyes and looked unremarkable. Which I’d come to believe was protective coloration to stop people wondering what he might be plotting. He had been created as the clone of a man once designed as a superspy, and for the last ten years he’d lived a life where his only safety came from acting foolish and shallow. Sometimes I wondered if he knew where the act started. And where it stopped.

His hand rested on my waist, long fingers transmitting an impression of controlled strength through the pliable fabric.

“I’m looking at those troop carriers,” I said, concentrating on the music and the movement of my feet. It didn’t take that much effort, because I too had been created, not born in the normal way, and I’d been designed for speed and agility and grace.

Simon looked over my shoulder at the transports, and made a face, half dismissal and half amusement. “Oh, that,” he said and shrugged a little, contriving to give the impression that the glistening transports, each of them able to carry more than a thousand armed men, were a negligible detail like a speck of dust on the floor of his polished ballroom. “Don’t worry,
ma petite
.”

I’d not yet decided if Simon’s habit of larding his speech with archaic French words annoyed me or amused me, but calling me “little” pushed it, since I was at least two inches taller than him. Impatience colored my tone, as I said, “But shouldn’t
you
be worried? These people depend on you for their safety.” And this was true. As far as there was an authority in the seacity, it was Simon, whose predecessors had commanded it from time immemorial, and who had the loyalty of all troops and functionaries. At least in theory. Whether he called himself Good Man or Protector, he reigned here.

He made a sound, not quite a chuckle at the back of his throat. “And they’re perfectly safe,” he said. “Listen, those troop carriers aren’t going to do anything,
pour cause
.”

“And the cause is?”

“Oh,
ma petite
. The cause is I have it on good authority they’re mostly empty. The Usaian Revolution over in Olympus and Sea York and their territories is keeping the Good Men fully busy, and costing them more men than they can recruit, unless they start creating people in vats, as they did at the end of the twenty-first century. Until they do that, though, the Usaians are giving them more trouble than they can handle. And since people created in vats still have to grow up, I’d say we have a good fifteen years’ respite.” He looked at me, and his brown eyes danced with unmitigated amusement, like an adult laughing at the preoccupations of a toddler. His body moved seamlessly with the music, even as he smiled at me. “Listen, Zen. I wouldn’t have declared the revolution if I hadn’t thought there were next to no chances of reprisal by the
ancien regime
, the global might of what used to be the Good Men consortium. I’m a revolutionary, yes,
m’amie
, but I’m not stupid.”

I gave him a dubious look, but something I’d decided shortly after arriving on Earth was that Simon was not in fact stupid. Truth be told, he might be too smart for his own good. He was certainly very good at keeping Simon safe and sound and at knowing the best means of doing so. And he was completely amoral about it too.

The pressure of his hand on my waist increased fractionally. I let him lead me, as I cast one last glance at the transports on the bronze-gilded sea, bobbing slightly in the current. They’d been there for twenty-four hours, and they’d done nothing. Simon had to be right. He had to. Those transports were air-and-surface. Had they been filled with troops enough to overwhelm the seacity defenses, they’d have flown in, landed and taken over, long ago. They were for show. For intimidation. They weren’t real. I could, at least, trust Simon to see what was a threat to him and what wasn’t.

We danced.

Though I came from a very different culture, born and raised as I’d been in a small and secret
lost
colony of Earth, as a guest of the Good Man—oh, pardon me, the Protector—I’d been taught to dance to anything that might be played at the ball. This was a waltz, an ancient dance that had once been scandalous. We segued from it to the glide, a modern dance that was considered very difficult. Our bodies moved in unison as though we’d practiced together. Which we hadn’t. We’d simply been created to be good at most things physical. Both of us were made, not conceived, assembled protein by protein in a lab, and were both faster and more coordinated than normal people.

The dance floor filled to repletion with twirling people, as the sun sank completely into the sea. In the darkness that followed, the troop transports became mere black dots on the inky water.

We took a break for drinks and food, then returned to the dance floor. It was in the middle of this dance when Simon said, “Zen, listen, I need to ask you a very important question.”

My whole body tensed, and I stopped, trying to think of a gentle way of refusing his hand in marriage. I owed him so much, and though I wouldn’t marry for such a reason, I also didn’t know what form his displeasure might take if I said no. He was the sole ruler of a vast territory. If he got angry, he might exact terrible vengeance. Besides, my foster parents had raised me to always pay my debts. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, not sure how to refuse him without hurting him, and, more importantly, without inviting his wrath. I couldn’t accept him. I’d been married once. I didn’t love Simon unreservedly, as one should love one’s husband.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said.

And then an explosion rocked us.

At first, I wasn’t sure it hadn’t been part of the music, then the concussion hit, making the floor shake and the entire airy palace tremble and resonate, like a platter that had been struck a blow with a hard object. From somewhere below came an orange reflection, a bloom of light, immediately extinguished.

Simon stopped completely, his hands on my waist, his brow wrinkling and said,
“Merde!”

I cast a look at the sea, but it remained unlit and the darker points of the transports still bobbed on the water.

Another explosion, this one more deafening. Above us, a glistening crystal chandelier swayed. Bits of crystal rained down on couples who lurched to a stop. The orchestra struck another tune but it petered out as only half the members even started playing. People screamed.

A third explosion hit. The palace rocked and Simon wrapped an arm around me and leapt, carrying me with him to the edge of the ballroom, up against the wall. I could smell him. Sweat from our exertions on the dance floor had been joined by something sharper that spoke of fear.

He lay on top of me but not crushing me, his body forming a defensive cover over mine, blocking my view, blocking my movement.

“Simon,” I said, half-protest, half-entreaty. I twisted to get the burner from my ankle, but he had already grabbed it. He pointed it over my head at the ballroom’s main door. “It’s not the armies of the Good Men,” he said.

“No,” I said. I didn’t say
damn it, give me back my burner
because he was firing it at someone, and I couldn’t really fire with his bulk on top of me. I had no idea why he was protecting me this way. I’d never needed protection. I tried to look around his shoulder, but he put his arm across to hold me in place.

I wasn’t sure if I could knock Simon out. Probably, by sheer force alone. That and I knew he wasn’t plate-armored. But he was as fast as I was, and he might stop my attack midway through. Worse, attacking him would distract him from defending himself and, I suppose, me as well. And knocking him out would leave him vulnerable to attackers. “Damn it,” I said. “Why weren’t you armed?”

He didn’t answer. He was breathing very fast, and he now stank of fear.

“Simon,” I said, “let me go. I can fight.”

“No,” he said. His voice hoarse. “It’s a mob. They’ll kill you, or worse. It’s my fight.”

A fourth explosion, and then, from outside the ballroom, echoing like it had started somewhere beneath us, came a song. Loud, and inharmonious, it seemed full of threats I only half understood, because it was in the local patois, formed when the city itself had been founded: a mix of archaic French, archaic English, some Spanish words, and a lot of Glaish overlay. Something about setting fire to the world and enjoying the flames. Something about the blood of tyrants.

BOOK: Through Fire (Darkship Book 4)
10.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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