This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental. EOS An Imprintof HarperCollinsPublishers 10 East 53rd Street New York, New York 10022-5299 Copyright ? 2008 by Adam-Troy Castro Cover art by Chris McGrath ISBN: 978-0-06-144372-5 www.eosbooks.com All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever
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Publishers. HarperCollins? and Eos? are registered trademarks of HarperCollins Publishers. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen
property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neithe'r the author
nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book." For Christina Santiago-Peterson, who wasn't satisfied with the way I killed her off the first time Contents ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS.6 PROLOGUE.8 1 HABITAT.12 2 HATE MAIL.26 3 VICTIMS.35 4 BRACHIATORS.45 5 OWNED..60 6 PORRINYARDS.66 7 INTERFACE.76 8 OZ..85 9 EXILES.97 10 LASTOGNE.113 11 LEVINE, NEGELEIN, LASSITER..120 12 CRASH..136 13 ABYSS.151 14 RETREAT.161 15 ARRESTS.174 16 WAR..186 17 DESCENT.204 18 ROGUES.214 19 KNOTS.235
22 EMISSARIES FROM THE DEAD..290
23 IN THE CONFESSIONAL.299
Has anyone, ever in the history of novels, read this page if they didn't have some specificreason to consider themselves likely to be mentioned? (Voice of random reader: "Boy, that JoeSchmo, his third-grade English composition teacher, sure sounds like a nice guy!") Justwondering. In the meantime, various moments in the creation of this book were rendered easierthanks to the members of the South Florida Science Fiction Society writer's workshop, includingGeorge Peterson, Chris Negelein, Wade Brown, Dave Dunn, Cliff Dunbar, Mitch Silverman, BradAiken, and the late Meir Pann, all of whom had helpful things to say about its compoosition.Thanks also to Michael Burstein, who tolerates being immortalized as the alien race Bursteeni.Thanks to Stanley Schmidt, who published the first appearance of Andrea Cort in ANALOG. Thanksto the late Julius Schwartz, whose DC Cornics letter columns, back in the day, were a youngboy's first appearance in print. Thanks to Joey and Debbie Green, to David Goodman, to Elenaand Ed Gaillard, to Janna Sillverstein. Thanks to my agent Joshua Bilmes, for superhumanpatience. Thanks to Diana Gill and Emily Krump. Thanks to Jack McDevitt and Rob Sawyer. Thanksto Harlan Ellison. Thanks to my webmaster Dina Pearlman, and thanks to the many denizens of mynews group on www.sff.net.
Love again to my lovely wife, Judi, who for some odd reason persists in believing in me. Idunno why. But I sure as hell hope she never stops.
When the Monster sleeps, she dreams of Bocai.
Bocai had been an unremarkable world, of the usual unremarkable beauty. There had been desertsof towering red spinestalks, mountains lined with spongiform trees that remained tall andunyielding despite the softness of their bark, oceans that glowed with dancing phosphorescenceat night, and a day and night approximately half the length of the normal human sleep cycle,allowing the human beings who had leased one small island from the natives two sunnsets and twosunrises for every day they stood upon its gennerous fertile earth.
A beautiful world, yes. A remarkable beautiful world, no. Those who'd traveled to many allagreed that they'd seen better.
Following the usual behavior pattern of their species, the tiny human community had found theexotic sights and scents a fine subject for overwrought poetry. They had commposed severalhundred volumes, in no time at all, before something happened to all of them that lent thoseworks a dark undercurrent they had never been meant to possess.
These days, on the rare waking occasions when the Monster permits her thoughts to dwell on thatdamned place, she wonders how she ever endured life there.
It was, after all, a world.
And as a grown woman, she hates worlds.
As a grown woman, she has never been able to understand why so many technologically advancedspecies continued to prefer natural environments when artificial ones are much safer and so
much easier to control.
As an eight-year-old child, she had not known that even the happiest worlds could end with hercurled in a dark narrrow space between a bed and a wall, breathing dust and the sweat-soakedsmell of her own fear.
She knows this now, and reminds herself anew every time she dreams of Bocai: not the lush andcolorful landscape but that cramped space, her ragged breath, the distant smells of burningflesh, the distant cries of sentients killing or being killed.
She dreams about this night when hide-and-seek was no longer just part of a familiar childhoodgame. She dreams of thoughts that did not belong in her head and feelings that did not belongon her skin. She dreams of seeing a mob of neighbors smash her mother's head against a wallagain and again until everything the kind, somewhat distracted woman had been was reduced to astain on the mortared walls. She dreams of seeing her father, armed with a shovel, smash theskull of a Bocaian child she had considered a sister.
She dreams of seeing two sentients who had until this night been best friends to one another,one human, one Bocaian, tearing and scratching at each other in the dirt, too frenzied toscream from the wounds that have already blinded both.
And all of this was horrible and all of this was terrifying, but none of it affected her, atleast on that night, the way it should have.
On that night it thrilled her.
On that night it made her heart pound and her blood race and her flesh tingle with the thrillof a game more delicious than any she had ever known.
On that night she regretted only being too small to participate.
Because she also wanted to kill something.
It's an odd thing for an eight-year-old Hom.Sap girl to want, and the part of the child thatstill remained sane had been entirely aware of that. There had never been any vioolence in herlife, up until those last few hours-and there seemed no reason beyond simple self-defense forher to feel the urgency she felt now.
But she did hunger for it. She wanted to feel something alive turn to something dead. Shewanted to stand above it at the moment of its dying, and feel the satisfaction of knowing thatshe'd been the one who drove it from the world of things that live and breathe and feel intothe world of things that merely rot.
She wanted it so much that the grown-up Monster, reliving these moments from the vantage pointof a survivor, is amazed that the little girl's sense of self-preservation was powerful enoughto keep her in hiding for so long. Amazed that the little girl managed to keep quiet, thatshe'd managed to hide from the adults-turned monsters before they could have done to her whatthey'd already done to her father, her sister, her neighbors, and her friends.
If only she'd remained in hiding.
She might have avoided getting any blood on her own hands.
She might have.
In dreams, anything can happen. History can be rewritten .
Fates can be argued with. Things set in stone can be remolded like putty. But this dreamfollows real historical events.
This dream bears an inevitability that has tortured the Monster all her life. This dreamcarries with it the knowledge that all these events have already taken place and thereforecannot be changed.
This dream commemorates the moment that transformed the little girl from innocent into theMonster. The little girl in this dream is frightened not because she knows she might dietonight, but because she holds the knowledge of the Monster, watching through the same adulteyes, seeing that death might have been better. . .
Trapped in the dream that never changes, the little grrl hears a rustling sound, and she knowsthat there is someone else in the room with her.
She knows it is someone she loves.
She knows he is here to kill her.
She knows she will kill him first.
She knows that at the moment of his death she will feel a rush of sick pleasure unmatched byany other joy her life will ever offer.
And she knows that she will live the rest of her life missing it.
I've never been a fan of natural ecosystems.
I know they're romanticized. They're great for people who like to swat bugs, step on feces, andcatch strange disseases, an odd subsection of humanity that has never included myself. I grewup in urban orbital habitats and pretty much know better. But even I must admit that naturalplaces evolve by accident and therefore can't be blamed for their high level of unpleasantness.Artificial ecosystems, engineered by sentients who know we're better than that now, are justplain perverse.
The cylinder world One One One was an eloquent case in point.
It was so wrong, in both concept and execution, that it exalted even the most appalling messesarranged by Nature. Like most constructs of its kind, it rotated at high speeds to provide tothe internal environment a simulated gravitational pull away from its axis of rotation. That'sjust basic engiineering, so old that dumb old Mankind considered it a brillliant idea longbefore we went into space and put the basic idea into practice. But most cylinder worlds orbitplanets, or hang around inside solar systems, and are built by sentients who evolved on planetsto support life that likes to walk around on a solid surface, even when that solid surface hasa horizon that curves up on both sides. As a result, they house their habitats on the surfacethat best approximates planetary notions of up and down: that is, the outermost?"floor."
On One One One, the independent software intelligences known as the AIsource had turned thatusual model upside down. The station itself was situated in deep interstellar space, a goodtwenty light-years from the nearest inhabited world, and far from any of the territoriesclaimed by any of the major spacefaring species. We never would have known about it if theyhadn't given us the address. Its habitable inteerior centered on an Uppergrowth of knottyvegetation clingging to the interior station axis. The crushingly dense lower atmosphere was apoisonous soup of thick toxic gases above a sludgy organic sea. Only in the upper atmosphere,near the central hub, was there a thinner oxygen-nitrogen blend of the sort congenial to thelife-forms the AIsource had enngineered. The AIsource determination to get into the God-in-a-bottle business struck me as quixotic at best and insane at worst. And pointlessly grandiose,as well. The average human cylinder world is about ten kilometers long by two kilometers indiameter, which strikes me as a compact, manageable size that shows a little sense of humilityin matters of cosmic scale. There are some leviathans, like my base of operations, New London,of up to ten times that size. All right, so we need big cities. But this place, One One One,was approximately a thousand times longer and some fifty times fatter than even New London:pretty excessive for the housing of a few brachiating apes who had to spend their entire livesclinging to bioengineered vines. It defined the concept of inexact fit.
Either way, it was an upside-down hell.
Even as the sleek AIsource transport ferried me into the habitat, I mentally cataloguedeverything I found disturbing here. The storm clouds far below were like a roiling browncauldron, flashing with sudden light whenever charged by the violent forces at their heart. Thegiant winged things who sometimes ventured above those were like dragons out of a bad fairytale: their wingspans up to two kilometers across, the force of their flight leaving entire
storm systems in their wake, their sudden screeching dives into the opaque clouds acts of epicpredation on creatures nobody flying at my currrent altitude had ever seen. I'd been assuredthat the dragons never ascended as high as the Uppergrowth latitudes. I'd also been advised notto bother thinking about them, as they had nothing to do with the reason I was here. It was
Don't think about the elephant . (But it's there.) Don't think about itlike that old joke:
and it'll go away.(But it's there.)?You're still thinking about it.And so on.
The Uppergrowth, dotted here and there with the sluggish forms of the Brachiators, was a vastgray surface of commpact, knotted vines that loomed over this world like a hammmer waiting forthe best opportunity to fall. The thick black pylons that every hundred kilometers or sodescended from that Uppergrowth into the cloudscape were anchored at their apparent midpointsto the glowspheres that served as One One One's suns, and looked far too flimsy to hold suchballs of corruscating fusion. The glowspheres themselves cast a light harsh enough to burnpurple afterimages on my retinas, and there were so many of them that my transport castmulltiple, competing shadows on the Uppergrowth above me.
I regarded it all with my usual grim reserve, dimly aware that I'd fallen back into a nervoushabit that had plagued me for years: one index finger twirling the single lock of long, blackhair that dangled from the right side of my head. Since the rest of my hair is cut very short,the many people who hate my guts like to say I keep that lock long to feed the tic and for noother reason. I know the habit drives people to distraction and therefore practice it wheneverI can. I'm too uncomfortable in the presence of others to tolerate their commfort in mine.
The flight might have been bearable if the transport had been properly enclosed; but, no, itwas a roofless model, protected against precipitation and wind shear by ionic shieldding,offering a ride so smooth that had I closed my eyes I wouldn't have experienced any sense ofmotion at all. But I knew I was not enclosed. I knew that given just one mooment's suicidalmadness, it would have been all too easy to hop over the waist-high bulkhead and plunge to mydeath. I knew it and I could not ignore it. Just as I knew that somebody in this Habitat was amurderer.
Excuse me. Somebody else.
I always forget to count myself.
The transport interjected: Andrea Cort: are you suffering distress?
"Yes. How did you know?"
Your blood pressure, heartrate, and respiration all reflect tension levels consistent with theearly stages of panic.
"I didn't know you were paying such close attention."
You are our guest and your health, when in our care, is paramount. Would you like somemedication?
Some therapeutic conversation, then?
I'd spent years enduring therapy I didn't want, receiving medications that didn't help, havingmy brain mapped at evvery scale down to the molecular in search of answers that didn't exist.If it accomplished anything at all, it was instilling a lifelong aversion to sentients whomeant well. "No. Maybe later." You would not be the first human being to experience diffficultyin this environment. Help is available.
''No, thank you."
The transport respected my wishes enough to shut up, thus demonstrating one major differencebetween software intelligences and human beings.
Human beings intrude whether welcome or not.
The facility housing One One One's human contingent was a network of pendulous canvas shapes,dangling trom the Uppergrowth like gourds. Colored as gray as the network of vines thatsupported them, they seemed so organic a part of the landscape that I didn't recognize them ashuman structures until we drew near.
There must have been fifty hammocks, dangling in bunches, with only a few set off in relativeisolation. They were linked by bridges of flexible netting, which crawled with the forms ofhuman beings. Some traveled the Uppergrowth itself brachiating along its roots and vineswithout safety lines. One lithe young woman with flaming orange hair hurled herself away fromeven that precarious haven, hung in mid-space for a second, and landed on one of the nets,bouncing up and down in total disregard of the deadly fall that would have awaited her if she'dmissed.
The transport slowed, picked an angle of approach, and moved in underneath the hammocks, soclose now that it was possible to discern the prone shapes of human beings in the lowestdistensions of dangling canvas. Some of the humans traversing the net bridges paused to studyme as I arrived. Their clothing styles ranged from skintight jumpsuits to, in a few cases, fullnudity. Male, female, and a few identifiable neuters, they were all built like gymnasts at peakphysical condition. Most were compact, though I noticed a few long-limbed spidery physiquesamong them. Their expressions managed odd combinations of hope, terror, resentment, anddefiance, sometimes all at once.
I'd seen looks like that before.
They were people under siege.
The skimmer slowed to a stop beneath one of the central hammocks. As it dropped the shields, Ifelt wind: a light, warm breeze, carrying with it a scent midway between ocean water and thesugar-saturated air outside a candy shop I frequent in New London. Despite the terrifyingenvironnment, my mouth watered. Addiction to sweets is one of my few humanizing vices.
The fabric above me shifted and bulged from the weight of human movement. A narrow slitappeared where there had been no visible seam, revealing the face of a man in his latethirties. He had close-cropped shiny brown hair, eyes of a blue so pale they vanished againstthe whites, thin pink lips, and a lantern jaw that made his tentative smile look like a fissureon the face of an edifice. "Hello there!
Welcome to Hammocktown! I gather you're the J.A. rep?"
I object to such snappy abbreviations on principle, but my complete title was Associate LegalCounsel for the Homo Sapiens Confederacy Diplomatic Corps Judge Advocate, hardly the kind ofthing anybody could be reasonably expected to rattle off in a single breath. "Yes, I'mCounselor Andrea Cort. Are you the ambassador?"
His thin lip twisted. "That's not a title our esteemed landlords allow me to use."
"The AIsource object to the title Ambassador?"
"They object to it here."
If the software intelligences were getting pissy about job titles now, it either meant a majorshift in the nature of their relationship with our species, or something unprecedented aboutthe rules of life on One One One. But that was largely what I'd been led to expect. "Have theygiven you a reason?" His smile faltered. "You couldn't have gotten much of a briefing on yourway here."
"I'm only seven hours out of Intersleep." And still awaiting the energy crash that alwaysstruck like a club, within twenty-four hours of waking. "You haven't answered my question."
"I think I can answer your question inside. In the meantime, if you want to call me something,my name's Gibb, Stuart Gibb. You can consider me the chief asshole in charge." The slit openedwider, and he reached down with both arms. ''Let's get you up here so we can get you up tospeed. Do you have anything you want to pass up?"
I had a soft cylindrical bag containing three changes of clothes, a few toiletries, and asignificant amount of contraband. I've never had any qualms about handing it to anybody. Thebag was of Tchi manufacture, and as such was designed to satisfy a people who spent their daysand nights taking offense at imagined improper liberties. Gibb could have examined everycentimeter of the bag for days without finding access to my goods.
Gibb disappeared with the bag and a few seconds later lowered a ladder. Loose as it came down,flapping in the high-altitude breeze, it solidified at full extension. I grabbed hold, testingits ability to hold my weight, wondering what it would be like to slip and tumble into thatstorm-tossed hell. A relief. The old death wish, speaking up again.
I took a deep breath, forced calm calm calm into my limbs, muttered my personal mantra, Unseen
Demons , and began to climb.
As I pulled myself through the slit, entering warmer air and murkier light, Gibb grabbed myupper arm to steady me. His very touch was immediate annoyance. I let him guide me to a restingplace about a meter away from the opening, and was not at all comforted by the way the softrubbery canvas sagged beneath my added weight.
The interior of the hammock was a large round chamber, sagging at its center. A molded circularspine around its widdest point, bearing a variety of tightly bound cloth bundles, allowed it tomaintain a shape approximately like that of a teardrop, but the material below that spine wasloose, setttling into a shallow bowl beneath our weight.
Gibb was not the only man here. The other was a compact, grimacing figure with a shaved head, aprosthetic memory disk clinging to one temple, and eyes that glowered like lasers. Both menwere dressed in loose-fitting gray pants and many-pocketed open vests that seemed designed toshow off impressive gymnastic physiques. There was no way of telling whether those physiqueshad been earned the hard way via intensive training or installed by dealers in extreme physicalenhancements. The air inside the hammock was stale, redolent with liiquor and body odor. But myrelief at no longer needing to contemplate the long drop into One One One's stormy atmospherealmost made the murk intoxicating.
On the other hand, Gibb was still holding my arm. I tugged. "Let go."
"You looked like you were having trouble–"
"There's nothing to be ashamed of. As you can imagine, I've seen height-sensitivity before–"
"I can imagine. Let go."
Still he didn't. "I know the signs, Counselor. You're about ten seconds away from hysterics."
"You're about five from losing your hand. Let go."
An odd little look passed between Gibb and the grimacing man. I didn't need psi enhancements tonote that all the questions seemed to come from Gibb's side of the hammock. The self-proclaimedchief asshole in charge didn't seem to be as much in charge as he liked to claim. That wasokay. I was willing to believe the rest of the description accurate. In my personal experience,people who tell you how awful they are, the first time they meet you, are just trying to defangyour own inevitable reaction by beating you to the punch.
I know this. It's something I do myself.
Gibb released me and scrambled back half a meter up the canvas. "Forgive me, Andrea. Some ofour newcomers have a major problem with vertigo. They're so scared of falling that they make ithappen. Whenever I see somebody in trouuble, I tend to be extra careful until I know we won'thave a problem."
"As long as you don't call me Andrea again, we won't have a problem."
"Oh," he said, "we're generally informal here–"