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Authors: Alastair Reynolds

House of Suns

BOOK: House of Suns
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Books by Alastair Reynolds
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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\ Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Published by arrangement with the Orion Publishing Group.
Copyright © 2008 by Alastair Reynolds.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
eISBN : 978-1-101-06127-5
An application to register this book for cataloging has been submitted to the Library of Congress.

To Tracy and Grace:
big and little sister,
with love
was born in a house with a million rooms, built on a small, airless world on the edge of an empire of light and commerce that the adults called the Golden Hour, for a reason I did not yet grasp.
I was a girl then, a single individual called Abigail Gentian.
During the thirty years of my childhood, I only saw a fraction of that vast, rambling, ever-changing mansion. Even as I grew older, and gained the authority to wander where it suited me, I doubt that I ever explored more than a hundredth of it. I was intimidated by the long, forbidding corridors of mirror and glass, the corkscrewing staircases rising from dark cellars and vaults where even the adults never went, the rooms and parlours that - although the adults and housekeepers never said as much in my presence - were alleged to be haunted, or in some way not convivial to anything other than transitory occupation. The elevators and dumb waiters alarmed me when they moved without apparent instruction, obeying some inscrutable whim of the house’s governing persona. It was a mansion of ghosts and monsters, with ghouls in the shadows and demons scuttling behind the wainscotting.
I had one true friend, although I cannot now remember his name. He arrived occasionally, but only ever for short visits. I would be allowed to watch the approach and docking of his private shuttle, viewing it from the airtight vantage of a glass-windowed belvedere perched above the mansion’s highest tower. I was always pleased when Madame Kleinfelter allowed me up to the belvedere, and not just because such an occurrence signalled the arrival of my only true companion. From there I could see the entirety of the house, and much of the world on which it was built. The house curved away in all directions until it met the sharp bend of the planetoid’s jagged horizon, a thin margin of rock marking the limit of my home.
It was a strange building, although for a long time I had nothing to compare it with. There was no organised plan to it, no hint of symmetry or harmony - or if there ever had been, that underlying order had been lost beneath countless additions and alterations - work that was still ongoing. Though the planetoid had no atmosphere, and therefore no weather, the house was designed as if it belonged on a world where it rained and snowed. Every distinct part of it, every wing and tower, was surmounted by a steep-sided, blue-tiled roof. There were thousands of roofs, meeting each other at odd, unsettling angles. Chimneys and turrets, belvederes and clock towers punctuated the haphazard, dinosaur-backed roofline. Some parts of the house were only one or two storeys high; others had twenty or more levels, with the tallest parts rising like mountains from the foothills of surrounding structures. Windowed bridges spanned the gaps between towers, a silent, distant figure occasionally stealing behind their illuminated portholes. It was less a house than a city in which you could walk from one side to the other without ever stepping outside.
Later in life I would learn the reason for my home being the way it was, the reason why the building work never ceased, but as a child I simply accepted it unquestioningly. I knew the house was different from the ones I saw in books and story-cubes, but then nothing in those books or cubes resembled any significant aspect of my life. Even before I could read, I knew that we were rich, and it had been impressed on me that there were only a handful of other families whose wealth could be compared to our own.
‘You’re a very special young lady, Abigail Gentian,’ was what my mother told me on one of the many occasions when her ageless face addressed me from one of the house’s panes. ‘You’re going to do great things with your life.’
She had no idea.
It did not take me long to realise that the little boy must also be the child of a rich family. He came on his own ship, not one of the company-owned liners that occasionally conveyed lesser mortals to and from our planetoid. I would watch it arrive from deep space, slowing down on a spike of cobalt flame before stopping above the outer wings of the house, pirouetting into a landing configuration, flinging out skeletal landing legs and lowering with elegant precision onto the designated touchdown pad. Our family’s symbol was a black cinquefoil; his was a pair of intermeshing cogs, the emblem painted on the ship’s sleek, flanged hull.
As soon as the shuttle was down I would rush from the belvedere, almost tumbling down the tightly wound spiral stairs threading the tower. Whichever clone nanny was looking after me that day would take me to one of the elevators and we would travel up, down and sideways until we reached the docking wing. We usually got there just as the little boy was coming out, taking hesitant steps down the long, carpeted ramp from his ship, with two robots gliding alongside him.
The robots scared me. They were hulking things of dull, weatherworn silver, with heads, torsos and arms, but only a single huge wheel in place of legs. Their faces consisted of a single vertical line, like an arrow slit in a castle wall, at the leading edge of a fierce wedge-shaped skull. They had no eyes, no mouth. Their arms were segmented and ended in three-clawed hands, good for nothing except crunching flesh and bone. In my imagination, the robots were keeping the little boy prisoner when he was not visiting me, doing horrible things to him - so horrible that he could never quite speak of them even when we were alone. It was only when I was older that I grasped that they were his bodyguards, that deep within the dim architecture of their minds was something perilously close to love.
The robots only came to the bottom of the carpet, never rolling off it onto the wooden reception floor. The boy would hesitate, then step off, shiny black shoes clicking on the varnished blocks. His clothes were black except for white cuffs and a wide lacework collar. He wore a little backpack, and his black hair was glued back from his brow with strong-smelling lacquer. His face was pale and slightly pudgy, with round, dark eyes of indeterminate colour.
‘Your eyes are funny,’ he always told me. ‘One blue and one green. Why didn’t they fix that when you were born?’
The robots would spin around at the waist and reverse back into the shuttle, where they would wait until it was time for the boy to leave.
‘It’s hard to walk here,’ the boy always said, his footsteps unsteady. ‘Everything’s too hard.’
‘It feels normal to me,’ I said.
It was a long time before I realised that the boy came from a place in the Golden Hour where the local gravity had been fixed at half-standard, which meant he found it difficult to move around when visiting the planetoid.
‘Father says it’s dangerous,’ the boy said as we made our way to the playroom, two nannies trailing behind.
‘What’s dangerous?’
‘The thing inside your world. Or has no one told you about that yet?’
‘There’s nothing inside the world but rock. I know - I looked it up in the story-cube, after you told me there were snakes living in the caves under the house.’
‘The story-cube was lying to you. They do that when they think you need to be protected from the truth.’
‘They don’t lie.’
‘Then ask your parents about the black hole. It’s under your house right now.’
He must have known that my father was dead, and that I could only ask my mother something when her face appeared on one of the panes.
‘What’s a black hole?’
The boy thought about this for a moment. ‘It’s a kind of monster. Like a giant black spider, hanging in an invisible web. Anything that comes too close, it grabs them and stings them and then eats them alive. And there’s a very big one under your house.’
BOOK: House of Suns
11.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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