Sure, that thing above looks like a law firm, doesn’t it?
For those of you wondering, Greebo, my fuzzy editor is doing well. Apparently he ate well, hasn’t thrown up and greeted the vet tech with a long speech about something being wrong. She doesn’t know WHAT. I didn’t tell her it’s that he really wants to get back to work, and doesn’t trust me to put my nose to the grindstone in his absence.
He might not be wrong.
I’m having some trouble writing a short story, which is why I’m so late. It’s not that the story itself is difficult, or that I don’t have an idea (I do. It’s almost done.) It’s that I want to work on a novel.
The thing beneath is the beginning. Some of you will remember it from the old bar. You probably thought I had these ideas, did a chapter and they went away.
This wasn’t precisely true. By the time I do a chapter, I have the entire plot in my head for (in this case) a quadrology. Sure, the later books are shadowy, but first and second are firm, and I know what happens.
What happened was that I had well… obligations, both of the publishing kind, and of the kid kind. Now I’m at the other end of both those tunnels, and I can do what I please, all this stuff is coming back.
I had to shove Alien Curse to the backburner for a little while, because there are TWO protagonists claiming that book. I’m now ALMOST sure that I finish the first book from the perspective of Art Arcana, and that the second book is from Ginny Thorncourt’s perspective. And then they alternate for the series. But I need to let it chill a little longer, before I am sure.
There are other books, started and wanting to be written. But, alas, I only have one pair of fingers. Dyce should be next. But right now, these guys want out, and it’s not worth it trying to tamp them down. In fact, trying to make them wait while I finish a short story is making me climb walls, and is no joy for anyone around me.
No, I can’t explain any of this. It doesn’t make any sense. If you look on a vocation for writing as a potentially lucrative form of insanity, it’s not the correct model, but it kind of works. Sort of. Sideways and backwards.
So, below is the first chapter of Winter Prince, first book of Seasons of War.
It has a cover but I can’t find it right now, so I put a generic picture of a winter landscape above. Because, well, they end up in a “Winter world” which is actually a hunting preserve for big game, and they don’t have adequate weapons, and… eh. It’s all there, and I want to write it.
Sarah A. Hoyt
“…. perhaps the most notable thing about the initial settlers that departed from Earth in the early 22nd century, those that left when the Schrodingers were still thought to simply vanish with everyone aboard every other time or so were not desperate people, nor very poor people.
Of course, there were political prisoners: those too prominent or rebels against regimes too despised that simple massacre was impossible. Shipping them out was done under a cover of compassion, an appearance of wishing to give them the space to live out their anti-social fantasies without harming the common good of whatever despotism they’d been fighting. And if they disappeared, well, they had at least been given a chance.
But the strange thing was that the voluntary emigres were by and large the rich, the well-connected and the fanatical. People who believed in radical equality and wanted their offspring to grow up in a genderless or raceless world, and – conversely – people who believed their children should be engineered to fit a class, role or occupation and therefore have their happiness assured. Or alternately people who thought their children should be tweaked for minimal need of social interaction or maximal.
There were also people simply willing to create the perfect society, while leaving the genetics of their descendants alone. Men and women with a theory to prove, or a philosophy to validate.
Then there were the usual religious groups, from Christian to Marxist, seeking to create their utopia de novo in a new land.
Hence the strange landscape when we learned to control the translation engines for time as well as for space, the unfortunate Schrodinger nickname fell away from them, and re-discovered the universe this time with certainty. Those colonies that hadn’t arrived when expected and which had been instead flung back in time – the oldest being 20 thousand years in the past – had almost all changed from their intention. Sometimes changed into very strange societies indeed.
But perhaps the strangest of all were those that had held on to their initial intention.”
Sarmakand Semprus, Earth 3120
They hurt you, my liege, and I was not there to protect you the words pounded through Lucrecia Lantos’s head as she rode the zoomer away from the palace, on the road between snow-covered fields. The sky was heavy, lowering, and only the distant glow of the spaceport lent color to the landscape – a red and gold magnificence against the sky, like a false sunset.
She’d changed from the reception gown she’d worn to her formal dismissal ceremony into the uniform she’d worn when actually defending Prince Nicodemus – fitted ankle-length dark-blue pants and equally fitted jacket, in silvery grey. Ornamental more than practical, but yet sparing her the need to ride side saddle.
The family licarge had stayed at the palace. It dated from her grandfather’s day, ornate and gilded with the family crest on the two – ponderously sliding — doors. It had been designed to carry her grandfather’s family of ten children, plus retainers. Inside, it was a comfortable salon, with seating for twenty and compact cooking facilities. Very useful for long trips, as it flew higher altitudes making the trip faster, and certainly more comfortable.
It took Jon Coachman with his years of training and a heavy flying license to operate it. Father had made her take it to the palace. It was proper.
But she wasn’t leaving the palace when expected. She hadn’t wanted to explain why she was leaving. She didn’t want to be observed. She wasn’t even sure why. She just had to get away from the formality, the oppressive air of both celebration and mourning, an unholy comingling.
What drove her was a feeling, not a thought. Her grief was too present, too immediate to wish to be shared. Instead, she’d taken one of the zoomers the guard had used while in service, which had been set aside for them. Sleek silver machines: two cylinders with a saddle at the joining point, and handlebars for steering. They didn’t float too far above the road cut for ground transportation – mostly goods – and they didn’t go the speeds of enclosed carriages but it was enough to be faster than horses and certainly than walking.
The downside is that you had to ride a zoomer sidesaddle in a court gown. And Lucrecia would rather be whipped than ride ten miles side saddle.
Hence the change in clothing, which allowed her to ride astride, leaning forward over the humming machine. She’d ridden like this often, with her fellow guards.
And Prince Nicodemus.
Ten miles between the royal palace at Taurce and her family farm. She’d done the trip so often that she might have done it in her sleep. She’d come this way every weekend since she’d been selected to serve as the prince’s honor guard ten years ago, when she was just fifteen. And she often came alone or with Bruin – her neighbor – for her sole escort.
So long ago, she’d been selected to guard the prince. And she barely more than a child.
She’s a pretty thing, she remembered the major domo at the palace saying, his rough hand under her chin, pulling it up. And it’s not like the guard is likely to be anything but ornamental.
And so, he’d accepted a girl-child, barely fifteen, slim and small, whose only virtues were a pretty face and a certain quick facility of movement that in other worlds, or in another social class, might have made her a dancer.
That and her family pedigree.
The other five picked to serve as the young prince’s escorts were equally small and slim – perhaps so they wouldn’t dwarf their charge who, unlike most kings of Olympias’s past, was slender, with a quick, gracile movement, and an oval face surrounded by a shiny curtain of very straight dark hair, cut just long enough to swing in front of his eyes when he inclined his head.
Most people who knew him, and certainly the bodyguards who spent all of their time with him, were grateful when those eyes were obscured, otherwise — amber-gold and intent — they could give the impression of seeing past skin and bone and into the souls of those around him. And yet, more often than not, after his intent scrutiny, he would smile, a quirky smile, higher up on the left side than the right, as if to say that whatever peccadillos of yours he might have discovered, you weren’t so very bad after all.
They’d all adored him from the very first day, Lucrecia – whom he called Lucky – and the other two girls, Izzy and Myria, and the boys, Pete and Marcus and Bruin.
And he’d taken them seriously, not as play friends or even as servants, but as companions, serious, working companions. Even the girls. I have no use for an ornamental guard, he’d said. If you’re going to be my body guards, you’re going to learn to guard me. You’re going to learn blades and sonic cutters and projectile weapons too. And you’ll learn to use every shield available and to plan and mount campaigns. I wouldn’t be the first king of Olympias left to rebuild when only myself and my bodyguards are available to fight off insurrection and rebuild. So you’re going to learn all that. And you’re going to be capable of fighting and defending me.
And they had been. He’d got them masters. The palace guard had been picked over and officers chosen to whom the honor of teaching the prince’s guards had been vouchsafed, in such a way that they couldn’t refuse. Within a year, Lucky and her colleagues had become — without any of the older people, the ceremonial masters, the bureaucrats in the palace noticing it – as good at armed an unarmed combat as any of the trained military officers who guarded king Phillomenos. Lucky, perhaps a little better than the rest – in reflexes and thinking — had most often been chosen to guard his highness.
Yet, when it had come to it, she hadn’t been there, with him when she was needed. No. The king had not deemed the prince’s honor guard efficient enough to go to real war. And the prince had been captured by the enemies of Olympias. The enemy of all of humanity.
You were hurt, my prince, and I wasn’t there to defend you.
The words tore from her inner mind like a sob from her chest, made her breath catch on her lips, and she bent further over the zoomer, as if it were all an adjustment of her position, as if she hadn’t been about to break down and cry. Because Lucky didn’t cry. She was – as prince Nicodemus had often told her – an officer, a sworn protector of the crown in the person of the prince heir of Olympias. She was not, she could not be a girl like all other girls.
She took the turn off to her family lands without thinking, and rode at the same speed along the narrower lane surrounded by evergreens that gave it a shadowed appearance, a funereal green-and-black cast. Ancient trees, planted by her ancestors to provide shadow and comfort now seemed to her confining and dark.
Her family’s farm-manor loomed ahead, broad gate set between colonnaded pillars, on either side of which a wall stretched, eight feet tall and made of poured everlast – smooth like glass, strong like stone. Couldn’t be climbed or broken through. It spoke of more violent times, when the city states of newly-colonized Olympias had fought one against the other and every manor must be a fortified citadel. Those days were over many centuries ago. Olympias’ only enemies, right now, were external, and weren’t human.
She touched the bracelet on her wrist, which held the control to the gate. It swung open in front of her just in time for her to squeeze through at full speed and to ride down the lane, like a woman possessed, causing a man walking several dogs to step hastily aside into the grassed area amid trees. Lucrecia ignored him, as well as all other retainers who fled out of the way of the zoomer. Not something she did normally.
Her father had taught her that while some in Olympias had been designed by the gengineers and curated by the geneticists to be rules, and some to be servants, there was honor in both positions. A nobleman or woman worthy of his salt didn’t ignore those who served him, and whose work was just as vital.
Normally Lucrecia would have stopped to chat to each of the retainers, or at least smiled and acknowledged their presence.
But not today. No, not today.
In front of the main stairway which led up to the front door, one floor up, she dismounted and blindly switched off the zoomer, not even fully seeing the retainer who came out to collect it and take it to the garage.
Climbing the stairs, boots slapping against stone steps, she didn’t see her father loom in front of her until almost colliding with him., and was brought up short, stopping barely in time, and curtseying awkwardly, before looking up into her father’s lined face, to see worry in his dark blue eyes. “What’s wrong Lucrecia? What did they tell you?”
“Nothing new,” she said. “Nothing we didn’t know. The ceremony was just to dismiss the prince’s honor guard. Since they say we won’t be needed anymore.”
Since they say whatever the aliens did to him left him bereft of a mind, her thought continued, as good as dead, but she didn’t speak it aloud, because there was no point in it. Her father knew it as well as she did. It had been in the news over and over, looped again and again, since they’d recovered what was left of Prince Nicodemus. His body had been recovered and brought to Taurce, where it was being kept alive – as any other body wouldn’t be – until he could fulfil his royal obligation of giving heirs to the crown. Nothing more. The mind that had animated those amber-gold eyes and the quick humor that had quirked his mobile mouth into a lopsided smile, those were as gone as if his body were already entombed in the royal cemetery, beneath marble and snow.
They hurt you, Nicky, and I wasn’t there to save you, Lucky thought, and shied away from the thought – because she’d never called him Nicky when there was anyone else present. He was his Royal Highness and Prince Nicodemus and My Lord. It was only when they were alone, reading or playing chess that the boon he’d granted her long ago, over some forgotten bet in adolescence, of being allowed to call him Nicky operated. She was the only one who called him that, and the word had become a sweet balm for all ills that could befall them. But not this one. There was no cure for a world bereft of Nicky.
“You look disturbed,” her father said. “More disturbed than…”
“Then I should look?” she said. She shrugged. “I was loyal to him. He was my liege. I…”
Her father put his hand on her shoulder. He’d served Nicodemus’ late father and had been loyal to him in his own youth. The grief – and guilt – for his liege lord’s death remained with him these twenty years later.
And now, something of the understanding of the failure of letting one’s liege lord die, was in his eyes as he looked at Lucky. “I was ten feet from my Lord, when the assassin’s blade found him,” he told his daughter. “If I could I’d still go back and offer my life for his.”
Lucky nodded. And let her father think it was only that. Oh, it was partly that. She’d sworn to protect Nicky. She’d sworn to die for him. But the other part was that he was Nicky and that she, beyond being his bodyguard, was the closest thing the prince had to a friend. He’d sent her letters, through an elaborate subterfuge, after he’d left to command the royal force in space, against the invading alien. He’d sent her electronic messages that were bounced over half of Olympias before reaching her, but which were still unmistakably his.
They told her of the battles and of the enemy, and of what they did to those they captured. Nicky’s most serious – most disturbing – letter had been about prisoners who’d been recovered with their minds effectively destroyed, so that there was nothing left, and no hope of recovering them. He talked of giving them the only mercy that could be given, in the circumstances.
And she thought if that was what had happened to him, if they’d recovered him and given him swift, clean death, then she wouldn’t mind so much.
Oh, she’d still mind. Nicky was… energy and movement and thought, and without him a little light would go out of the sun, a little color would go out of the world, leaving subdued movement, quietness, sadness. Without Nicky and the purpose of guarding him, a little of Lucky’s life would be gone.
But what made the situation unbearable was the other thing. He was the carrier of the royal line of Olympias. The kings of Olympias were absolute in deed and will. Like every other person in Olympias, since the colony’s founding thousands of years ago, they’d been designed to be responsible and intelligent, and the best kings possible for the now one billion subjects.
It was believed only that could make a world government work and keep it functioning without quarrels. Everyone in Olympias was engineered for their station, designed for their role in society.
And it had worked. It had worked for two thousand years and counting.
But one thing the kings had no control of. Their reproduction – the exact genetic makeup of their heirs – was decided by the Archons – a council of ten geneticists who combed through all available brides before selecting one. Normally their selections were predictable. Minor nobility or major, or sometimes some prominent foreigner from worlds beyond the system. But when Nicky’s father, Prince Herato, had come of age, the Archons had decided the royal line needed something different. They had picked for him a young woman from a family of free traders – humans without world who traveled between the stars, and traded between worlds. A message had been sent, a dowry negotiated, and the woman had come down to Olympias – much to everyone’s surprise – to take her place as queen-in-waiting.
The result had been Nicky and only Nicky, since his mother had died when he was a babe in arms, and his father had been assassinated two years later. That left Nicky as the bearer of whatever the intent of the archons was for the royal line of Olympias.
“Why would they breed him, when his mind is gone,” she asked, suddenly, forcefully, and using barnyard language she would normally shy away from even letting her father know she knew. “Why would they do that? Why can’t King Phillomenos just remarry?”
“Because it is not the same,” her father said, looking surprised, or perhaps shocked by her words. “The blood of prince Herato was different. His mother came from a family that has no daughters, certainly no daughters of a similar makeup. Prince Nicodemus has a genetic makeup that is not easy to recreate. One the archons believe best suited to the challenges ahead, now that Earth has found us again, and we have to negotiate and work with the Federated Human Worlds. So they believe he owes the crown an heir before he dies.”
“They say he will be ceremonially married. Even though his brain is not… Even though he’s not…” She shook her head and could not go on. The idea was monstrous, horrible. It was defilement. It was using the body after it was dead in every sense.
“Well, certainly. You must see that. The prince heir must be legitimate.”
She nodded, but she didn’t see it. All she did she is that they were going to use Nicky as if he were a stallion, or prized bull. Not even that, since she very much doubted his body would be taking much active part in the proceedings. It would all be needles and tubes, chemicals and medtechs.
There was something obscene to the thought. Something horrible.
“I’ll be well, Father,” she lied. “I just need time to compose myself.” And bobbing a more composed curtesy, this time, she walked around him and up the stairs to her room.
Her room, on the second floor was simple. She hadn’t lived in it much, and she’d disdained the fashionable appointments, the tables and shares and books.
Raised as a fighter and a retainer, she had opted for only the necessary furnishings in the vast and bright room: a bio bed with a mattress that adjusted to her body and to the temperature, a bedside table, a desk, and a closet full of clothes she’d worn at the palace. Gowns and suits and exercise coveralls. All of which were a thing of the past. She’d been dismissed. Retired. She had a decoration, to show she had served with valor. Valor. Empty Valor that could not do its duty!
They hurt you, my love, and I wasn’t there to stop them. The sentence made her stop mid-step. It wasn’t that she didn’t know she loved Nicky, but that she’d never admitted it to herself, much less to him. And now she’d never admit it to him, because he was gone.
In front of her closet, she stopped and tottered, as her brain worked too fast for her body to follow. They were bringing Nicky to Taurce the capital of Olympias tomorrow, to be married to whomever the Archons had indicated. She’d been trained in shooting and in blade use. She’d been trained to stop assassins. She knew how to assassinate.
The thought riveted her to the spot. She’d never, ever, not in her lifetime, would have thought of killing Nicky, of stilling his smile, of shutting forever his observant gaze. But that was done. All that was left now was a breathing corpse, a corpse about to be desecrated in a horrible manner. In a manner she was sure would have repelled him.
She flung her closet open and pulled out a dull black stretch suit. In it she would look like a hundred anonymous retainers around the palace. She would need help. Pete and Bruin. She was absolutely sure they would follow her plan.
Opening the small case at the back of the closet she extracted a slim gun with a clear range of about thirty feet. It should be enough. It wasn’t like Nicky would be jumping around.
She understood the penalty for regicide was death. But there were duties that transcended life. She’d leave via the window and the tree next to it, though. There was no reason to alarm her father, and besides, she thought, as she twisted her waist-long red hair into a tight knot and pinned it at the back of her head, she wanted him to be able to deny knowing anything about her plans. She was risking her life, but not her parents’ or sisters’.
I am coming, my liege. To do what I must do.