Authors: Elizabeth Moon
Tags: #Science Fiction
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 © 2002 by Elizabeth Moon.
copyright © 1993,
copyright © 1994,
copyright © 1995, all by Elizabeth Moon.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original Omnibus
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Gary Ruddell
First printing, August 2002
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Heris Serrano / by Elizabeth Moon.
"Heris Serrano has been previously published in parts as Hunting party,
Sporting chance and Winning colors."
ISBN 0-7434-3552-4 (pbk)
1. Science fiction, American. 2. Serrano, Heris (Ficticious character)—Fiction. 3. Women in astronautics—Fiction. 4. Life on other planets—Fiction.
5. Interstellar travel—Fiction. 6. Space ships—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3563.O557 H47 2002
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Production by Windhaven Press, Auburn, NH
Printed in the United States of America
"I found Brun and Sirkin," Cecelia informed Heris. "We're all safe." The following pause was eloquent; even over an audio-only link Cecelia could easily imagine Heris searching for a telling phrase.
," Heris said finally. "You're square in the midst of a military action. This system is under attack by the Benignity; their ships are in the outer system now, and I need that yacht and its weapons . . . not three useless civilians who were
to be down on the surface digging in."
Anger flared. "Civilians aren't
useless. If you can remember that far back, one of them saved your life on Sirialis."
"True. I'm sorry. It just . . . the question is, what now? I can't get you to safety onplanet . . . if that's safe."
"So quit worrying about it. Do you think I'm worried about dying?"
"I . . . you just got rejuved."
"So I did. It didn't eliminate my eighty-odd years of experience, or make me timid. If I die, I die . . . but in the meantime, why not let me help?"
A chuckle. She could imagine Heris's face. "Lady Cecelia, you are inimitable. Get yourself up to the bridge; someone will find you a place. I'll let the commander know you're coming."
"Good hunting, Heris," Cecelia said. She felt a pleasant tingle of anticipation.
Oath of Gold
The Deed of Paksenarrion
The Legacy of Gird
Once a Hero
Rules of Engagement
Change of Command
Against the Odds
(with Anne McCaffrey)
(with Anne McCaffrey)
The Planet Pirates
(with Anne McCaffrey & Jody Lynn Nye)
Thanks to those who encourged this project: Alexis and Laurie, who began the chase by saying, "Why
fox hunting and spaceships?"; Margaret, who helped retrieve scattered bits after the great computer crash; the several patient friends who read drafts and pointed out logic problems; my husband Richard, who prefers new chapters to hot meals and a neat house; my son Michael, who has finally learned to leave me alone until the oven timer buzzes (as long as it's not more than fifteen minutes). The good people at Vic's Grocery—Vic, Martha, John, Debbie, and Penny—whose interest and support keep the absentminded writer from forgetting milk, bread, and other necessities of life—with special thanks this time to Vic Kysor, Jr., who in a conversation across the meat counter in his father's grocery store created a character and solved a problem for me. Of course the remaining flaws are my fault—even the best helpers can't do it all.
Heris Serrano went from her room in the small but respectable dockside hotel on Rockhouse Station to the berth of her new command convinced that she looked like an idiot. No one laughed aloud, but that only meant the bystanders had chosen to snicker later rather than risk immediate confrontation with an ex-Regular Space Services officer on the beach.
Heris kept her eyes away from any of those who might be contemplating humor, the dockside traffic of the commercial district. Her ears burned; she could feel the glances raking her back. She would not have changed her military posture even if she could have walked any other way; she had been R.S.S. from birth or before, daughter of officers, admirals' granddaughter and niece, a service family for all the generations anyone bothered to count. Even that miserable first year at the Academy had seemed familiar, almost homey: she had heard the stories from parents, uncles, aunts, all her life.
And here she was, tricked out in enough gold braid and color to satisfy a planet-bound admiral from one of the minor principalities, all because of the whims of a rich old woman with more money than sense. They had to be laughing behind her back, those merchanter officers and crewmen who didn't meet her eyes, who went about their business as if purple and scarlet were normal uniform colors, as if two sleeves covered with gold rings didn't look ridiculous, as if the rim of gold and green striped cord around collar, lapels, and cuffs didn't tell everyone that an R.S.S. officer had descended to the level of carting wealthy eccentrics on pleasure jaunts in something far more like a mansion than a spacefaring ship.
Commercial dockside ended abruptly at a scarred gray wall with a lockgate in it. Heris inserted her card; the barred gate slid aside, then closed behind her, leaving her caged between the bars behind and a steel door with a thick window. Another keyslot, this time her card produced a human door-opener, who swung the door aside and held out his hand for her papers. She handed over the neat packet civilian life required. Master's license, certifications in five specialties, Imperial ID, military record (abbreviated; only the unclassified bones), letters of recommendation, and—what mattered most here—Lady Cecelia de Marktos's seal of employment. The human—Station Security or Garond Family, Heris did not know which—ran a handscanner over this last, and replaced the entire pile in its file cover before handing it back to her.
"Welcome to North, Captain Serrano," the man said, with no inflection of sarcasm. "May I be of assistance?"
Her throat closed a moment, remembering the words she would have heard if she had gone through a similar lockgate on the other side of the commercial docks, where sleek gray R.S.S. cruisers nuzzled the Station side by side. Where her gray uniform with its glowing insignia would have received crisp salutes, and the welcome due a comrade in arms. "Welcome to the Fleet," she would have heard, a greeting used anywhere, anytime, they came together away from civilians. But she could not go back there, back where her entire past would wrap around her. She had resigned her commission. She would never hear those words again.
"No, thank you," she said quietly. "I know where the ship is." She would not say its name yet, though it was her new command. . . . She had grown up with ships named for battles, for monsters, for older ships with long histories. She could not yet say she commanded
North, on all Stations, defined the environs of aristocracy. Wealth and privilege could be found anywhere, in the R.S.S. as well as the commercial docks, but always near something. Here was nothing but wealth, and its servants. This deck had carpeted walkways, not extruded plastic sheeting; the shops had no signs, only house emblems. Each docking bay had its own lockgate, enclosing two large rooms: one marked "Service Entrance," lined with racks and shelving for provisions delivered, and the other furnished luxuriously as a reception salon for going-away parties. Heris's card in the slot produced another human door-opener, this time a servant in livery, who ushered her into the salon. Heris made her way between overstuffed sofas and chairs covered in lavender plush and piled with pillows in garish colors, between low black tables and pedestals supporting what were probably priceless works of art, though to her eye, they looked like globs of melted space debris after a battle.
The actual docking tube lay unguarded. Heris frowned. Surely even civilians had someone watching the ship's main hatch, even with the security of a lockgate on the dock itself. She paused before stepping over the line that made the legal division between dock and ship. The lavender plush lining of the access tube hid all the vital umbilicals that connected the ship to Station life support. Unsafe, Heris thought, as she had thought on her earlier interview visit. Those lines should be visible. Surely even civilians had regulations to follow.
Underfoot, the lavender plush carpet felt five centimeters thick. A warm breath of air puffed out of the ship itself, a warm breath flavored not with the spice she remembered from the interview, but with the sour stench of the morning after a very large night before. Her nose wrinkled; she could feel her back stiffening. It might be someone else's ship
but she did not allow a dirty mess on any ship she commanded—and would not now. She came out of the access tube into a family row; the tube's privacy shield had kept her from hearing it until she stepped across the barrier. Heris took in the situation at a glance. One tall, angular, gray-haired woman with a loud voice: her employer. Three sulky, overdressed young men that Heris would not have had on her ship, and their obvious girlfriends . . . all rumpled, and one still passed out on a lavender couch that matched the plush carpet and walls. Streaks of vomit stained its smooth velour. As she came through the barrier, the chestnut-haired youth with the ruffled shirt answered a final blast from the older woman with a whined "But, Aunt Cecelia—it's not
What was "not fair" was that rich spoiled brats like him hadn't had the nonsense taken out of them in boot camp, Heris thought. She smiled her normal good-morning-bridge smile at her employer and said, "Good morning, milady."
The youths—all but the unconscious snorer on the couch—stared; Heris could feel her ears going hot and ignored them, still smiling at Cecelia Artemisia Veronica Penelope, heiress of more titles than anyone needed, let alone more money. "Ah," said that lady, restored to instant unruffled calm by the appearance of someone to whom it meant something. "Captain Serrano. How nice to have you aboard. Our departure will be delayed, but only briefly"—here she looked at the chestnut-haired youth—"until my nephew is settled. I presume your things are already aboard?"
"Sent ahead, milady," Heris said.
"Good. Then Bates will show you to your quarters." Bates materialized from some angle of corridor and nodded at Heris. Heris wondered if she would be introduced to the nephew now or later; she was sure she could take that pout from his lips if given the chance. But she wouldn't get the chance. She followed Bates—tall, elegant, so much the butler of the screen and stage it was hard to believe him real—down the carpeted passage to her suite. She would rather have gone to the bridge. Not this bridge, but the bridge of the
or even a lowly maintenance tug.