Okay, guys, please don’t hit me, but I think I need to take a week off on Rogue magic.
The reason for this is that I’m finally writing Through Fire total immersion — really going on it.
Novels are weird. Sometimes I can write two at the same time. Sometimes I HAVE to write two at the same time. And sometimes, the voice of the character is so immersive that I can’t do anything else.
Zen is proving to be that sort of character. She fought me in getting into her head (no woman was EVER more deceptively named. She makes Athena tame and well balanced, while having a good bit of Kit’s reserve and protective instincts.) And now that it finally clicked and I’m writing/rewriting (some portions will stay, just rewritten) at speed, I can’t pop back out to do stuff. I can do non-fiction but not fiction.
In fact, this made this week very frustrating because I had a short story overdue, and it was for someone I like in the field and with whom I’ve worked before. I wrote it three times, but it still read “flat” and “by the numbers” to me, because my head just couldn’t shift to be THERE. Finally, on Thursday, I made an enormous effort and recast the story again. I still have doubts, but the editor liked it. However the effort from doing that, left me feeling like I’d been working in the fields all day. How? I don’t know. It was all desk work. But I felt SO exhausted at night, that I ended up being more than half ill yesterday. It was like I’d taken it upon me to climb a mountain or something, with no preparation.
So, yesterday I cleaned the house and redid two covers. I’m going to put the books up and I’ll let you see them when it’s up. Well… some of you have seen them. Let’s just say I’m finally satisfied with them.
And this morning I tried to convince myself I COULD do a chapter of Rogue Magic. But I think it would require the same effort as writing that short, and it would stop all my other work. And see, I REALLY want to finish Through Fire, because it’s very loud right now.
No, I’m not giving up on Rogue Magic (though I might take a break tomorrow on Elf Blood on MGC too. We’ll see how I feel in the morning and where I am in Through Fire.) And I apologize for this being really choppy — I’ve just been sick, and now I am possessed by a book. I promise there will be make-up chapters later.
Meanwhile I want to apologize to my subscribers for not having put up new material. What I’ve been writing is mostly for Baen, and it’s not that I’m afraid they won’t like that I’ve shown it to you in advance. What I’m afraid of, frankly, is critique. At this stage, when I’m wholly immersed in the book, the wrong QUESTION can send me spinning down a path that makes no sense, if you’re just reading the book after it’s printed. Yes, I promise to make it up to you guys later, too, including with some posts on the future history.
For now, let me shower, do some quick publishing, and then sit down and write the demon-book. (Well, what would you call an entity that possesses you.)
And not as a teaser, but as an explanation, here is the beginning (and yes, there are typos and bad word choices. Don’t fret your head about it. It will be gone over with a fine tooth comb before I send it in.)
Breach in The Wall
When men forged weapons of metal, they did it by putting them through fire repeatedly then beating them almost to the breaking point, then putting them through the fire again and again.
There are times I wonder if that’s what’s been done to me. Not that I think this is true precisely. It’s just that we, humans, tend to think of ways to justify the weird turns of our destiny. Since mine is odder than most, I often try to find a reason and a point. It would be easier, I think, if I could believe in any divinity or even a pre-ordained destiny.
Since I don’t, I’m not absolutely sure how to start this story.
I could start with that moment when I stood in front of the mirror, trying to find a way to disfigure myself, or to make myself look, at best, average, and the armed man by the door said, “You’re going about it all wrong.”
Or I could start when I left the small and forgotten colony planet where everyone knew me, and where everyone thought they knew what to to expect of me. Or I could start when I shot my husband. But no. That last still makes my heart turn within me, with thoughts of what might have been.
So I’ll start with the ball.
It was the first ball I attended and, though I might be wrong, likely the last. The place where I grew up, an asteroid colony started by refuges from Earth, had never run to balls or grand state occasions. Oh, we had a cultural center and sometimes there were dances there. But it’s not the same. You see, we had no government. At least we had no official government. And for the sort of ball that starts this story, a government is needed – something that controls central resources and can do things in style. I’d say more than that was needed too: a sense of hereditary splendor, of being the last of a line entitled and accustomed to this sort of thing.
Perhaps even more. Perhaps for the grandeur and pomp of that first and last ball, a sense is needed of decadence and falling glory. That ball had all of them.
It took place in the ballroom of what used to be the palace of the Good Men of Liberte Seacity: a glittering room formed of molded dimatough from its glistening black floor to its softly shining white walls.
Within it, enough people assembled to form a hundred couples, all of them dressed in fantastical finery. There were outfits that seemed to be spun of butterfly wings, and those that seemed to defy the shape of the human body. And there was clothing that harked back to the fantastical age of empires almost seven hundred years before – long, sweeping dresses and molding outfits in thing that were better than velvet and silk. My own dress was made – I understood – of a form of ceramic. Though it felt like satin to the touch, its dull black glimmer shone with pinpoints of light, as if stars were caught in its depths.
Liberte Seacity had been formed by a banker’s consortium at the close of the twenty first century, and like the other seacities it was supposed to be a refuge from high taxes and excessive government controls. Unlike other seacities, it had never been designed to have any industry, any useful output. Instead, it owned other seacities – Shangri-la, Xanadu and, later, 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. It was built in terraces, all carefully landscaped gardens and idyllic beaches, 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.
Approaching Liberte from the air, as I’d first seen it, one saw it only as a sort of white and green confection, something like an idealized wedding cake.
The palace of the Good Men was the topping on the cake: white and full of columns and terraces, built with an airy grace that would have been impossible without poured dimatough and sculpted ceramite, it might have fit a previous age’s dream of a fairy palace, an immortal fantasy.
The ballroom sat at the very top, and its walls alternated with vast panels of transparent dimatough, through which – as the night fell – you could see the sea, glistening in every direction, all around us, blue and still like a perfect mirror.
You could also see the troop transports moored in that sea, the vast, dark menace that encircled us metaphorically as well as in reality.
“Why are you looking out the window?” Simon St. Cyr, ci-devant Good Man of Liberty seacity, who, by a stroke of the pen, had made himself “Protector of the People and Head of the Glorious Revolution,” just a day ago.
I turned. Simon – who has at least another dozen given names to his credit – stood just behind me. He was slightly shorter than I, had brown hair, brown eyes and looked unremarkable. Which I’d come to believe was protective coloring to stop people wondering what he might be plotting. He put a hand out and rested it on my waist.
“I’m looking at those troop carriers,” I said.
“Oh, that,” he said, contriving to give the impression the glistening transports, each of them able to carry more than a thousand armed men, were a negligible detail like a spec of dust on the floor of his polished ballroom. “Don’t worry, ma petit.”
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” was beyond reason, since I had at least two inches on him. Impatience colored my tone, as I said, “But shouldn’t you be worried? These people depend on you for their safety.”
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, my. The cause is I have it on good authority they’re mostly empty. The Usaian revolution is keeping them fully busy, and costing them more men than they can recruit, unless they start creating them 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.” He looked at me, and his brown eyes danced with unmitigated amusement, like an adult laughing at the preoccupations of a toddler. “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, ma amie, but I’m not stupid.”
I gave him a dubious look, but something I’d decided very early on 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 knowing the best means of doing so.
The pressure of his hand on my waist increased fractionally. I became aware of the orchestra striking the sort of melody that indicates the prelude to dance music, and he said, “Madame Sienna, would you do me the very great honor of opening the ball with me?”
I cast one last dubious look t 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 and 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.
As a guest of the Good Man – oh, pardon me, the Protector – I’d been taught to dance 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 been trained to it. Which wasn’t true, but we’d been designed for it, you might say.
Other couples joined us. The dance floor filled with twirling people, as the sun sank completely within the sea and, in the darkness that followed, the troop transports became mere darker dots in the darkness of the sea.
We took a break for drinks and food, then returned to the dance floor. It was in the middle of this dance that the explosion came.
At first, I wasn’t sure it hadn’t been part of the music, then the concussion of it hit, making the floor shake, and the entire airy palace tremble and resonate, like a platter that’s been hit a blow. From somewhere below came an orange reflection, like a bloom of light, immediately vanished.
Simon stopped completely, his hands on my waist, and said, “Merde!”
I cast a look at the sea, but it was still all dark, and the darker points of the transports were still there, bobbing on the water.
Another explosion, this one more deafening. Above us, a glistening crystal chandelier swayed. Bits of crystal rained down on the couples. People screamed.
The palace rocked, as a third explosion hit, and Simon wrapped and 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, more forming a defensive cover over me.
“Simon,” I said, urgently, not sure how to ask, but trusting him to understand what I meant.
He pulled a burner from his pocket, and pointed it somewhere over my head. “It’s not the armies of the Good Men,” he said.
“No,” I said.
A third explosion and from outside the ballroom, sounding like it had come from somewhere beneath, came a song. It was loud, and inharmonious, and full of threats I only half understood, because it was in the local patois, formed when the city itself had been formed: 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.
I felt Simon shake. I won’t say he trembled with fear. It was more like shock, or surprise. “Merde,” he said again. Then in a louder voice, “Jean. Jean!” This was pronounced as in the French male name, not the Glaish female name. “Jean, for the love of God, get her out of here.”
Someone tall and dark, a man I didn’t know but who had crawled up close to us said, “But– Shouldn’t we—”
“Too late. Get her the hell out of here,” Simon said.
I didn’t want to go. I’d been taking care of myself since I was three at least. I had never needed, would never need some man – much less two men – who were wholly unrelated to me, to take control.
I tried to say that, but I had no weapon on me – stupid, but I’d thought a burner might prove awkward at a ball – and Jean was a large man and was dragging me backwards, at a crouch, along the wall.
I’m faster and stronger than most men. Most women too. I was engineered that way. But strength and speed go for nothing when you don’t know where the threat is coming from or whom to attack.
The ballroom was full of people fighting. Burners shot this way and that. I could no longer see Simon in the crowd. I smelled blood and fire.
Another two explosions, below, getting closer. The nearest dimatough pane cracked, top to bottom. The crystal chandelier fell, bits of crystal flying in all directions.
Jean said, “Run,” and grabbed my hand and pulled. Through what seemed like a concealed door, down a couple of staircases, onto a dark terrace by the seaside, we ran, and into a small, non-descript flyer. We took off almost vertically. An explosion rocked us, then another.
Jean said, “Merde.” It was a popular word. “We have to come down in the seacity,” he said. “We won’t be allowed to escape.”
“Escape what?” I said, and then remembering the last, vivid image of the people who’d come into the ballroom. “Were they carrying heads on pikes?”
“Yes,” he said.