Authors: Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Tags: #Detective and Mystery Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Fiction
Thanks for joining me on this journey
I owe so many thanks on this project. People who kept me honest, people who helped me get to work, people who made sure my details were correct. (The mistakes are all mine.) I owe special thanks to Paul B. Higginbotham for help with the court system, Dean Wesley Smith for help with dome structure, Annie Reed for finding all the things I missed, Colleen Kuehne for catching the important details, and Allyson Longueira for getting every last bit of this project through production.
Thanks also to Kevin J. Anderson, Stanley Schmidt of
and Sheila Williams of
for buying the short stories I wrote to explain details to myself. You kept me focused on the series quality, which I needed as I got deeper into the project.
And finally, thanks to all you readers. Your enthusiasm has kept me chugging, even when the going got difficult.
Here we are! The final book in the Anniversary Day saga. I’m relieved to be here, and a bit disappointed as well. Writing this has been an adventure for me. I’ve never done anything this large this quickly.
Publishing used to demand that writers only publish one book per year. (Which is why I have so many pen names—leftover from those days. I write too fast to stick to one book per year.) Now, we can publish as many books as we want.
Or as many as we can write in a short period of time. Telling this story properly tested my writing speed and my attention span. I’ve never spent years on one story before, and I had to do so here. Parts of this saga were written as long ago as 2007, and other parts just last week.
I am relieved to turn to other projects, but, before you ask, I will return to the Retrieval Artist universe. I came up with too many
story ideas in that universe while writing this saga.
For those of you who picked up this book first—I’m sorry. It is the eighth book in an eight-book saga. For those of you who expect all of the Retrieval Artist books to stand alone, these eight books don’t (although I suspect you can read
A Murder of Clones
all by itself with no ill effects). You need to start the saga with
and move onto the remaining seven books.
If you haven’t read the Retrieval Artist series before, start either with
or any book between
. The list of Retrieval Artist novels is in the front of this book (or the back of the ebook).
Again, thank you for coming with me on this journey and for reading the saga! I appreciate it, and hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
—Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Lincoln City, Oregon
September 27, 2014
SEVENTY YEARS AGO
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. Shuffle. Draaaaag.
Jhena Andre huddled in her bed, covers nested around her, her favorite doll cradled against her chest. She woke up, heart pounding, afraid someone was in her room—and someone was—but then she heard him mutter, and she realized—
She wanted to go back to sleep, but she couldn’t. Daddy sometimes came to her room to make sure she was okay. Sometimes he just held her. Sometimes he stared at her from the door.
Her room was the best room in the house. He painted the walls—Daddy wanted to be an artist Once Upon A Time, before It All Went Down, which Jhena knew meant the day that Mommy died and everything changed. Greens and golds and touches of sunlight, bits of color. The tall grasses waved and glistened. Sometimes the sky turned gray and rains fell, but not for long. Then the sun came out and the grasses gleamed. The air smelled fresh—Daddy said it smelled like fresh-cut grass—but Jhena thought it smelled like green.
Daddy’s paints made everything come alive, except Mommy.
Jhena’s brain skipped—that memory everybody wanted to know or not know, the memory everybody told her to forget or not forget, the memory of the day It All Went Down. All she had from that day was Daddy and her favorite doll. Her favorite doll didn’t have a name because Mommy said they’d name it together, and smiled, and never smiled again.
Jhena pulled the doll close, and listened to the rustling. The air didn’t smell green. It smelled like sour hot chocolate and the sharp sweaty smell Daddy got when he got scared. He hadn’t taken her special cup from the room. He always did or the bots did or someone did, because in the morning her special cup always got clean, and ready for that night’s chocolate, which she drank while Daddy read stories and she looked at the swaying grasses on the wall.
Daddy was taking stuff out of her closet. Her stomach started to ache.
Then Daddy swore, and Jhena sat up.
He turned around so fast she thought he was going to fall down. One hand out, catching the wall, disappearing in the grasses kinda—shadows of them always crossed skin but not really shadows. Echoes, sorta. The grasses couldn’t be on skin unless they got painted there, and Daddy said that nothing should get painted on skin.
“Jhen,” he said in a voice she’d never heard before. Like he wasn’t ready and he was scared but he wasn’t scared of her. “Baby.”
Then he sighed, and she thought maybe she heard another bad word, but she wasn’t sure.
He waved a hand, and dawn started in the grasses. The light in the wall was her nightlight. She thought maybe a minute ago there was a full moon—the night-time light—but Daddy changed it. That orange glow meant get up, even though her eyes felt sandy and the clock she hid under the edge of her night table had a 2 as the first number, not a 6. She knew the difference.
She was a big girl now.
“Oh, sweetie, I didn’t want it to go this way.” He looked scareder than he had before, like she was the daddy and he was the little girl and he’d been doing something wrong.
Jhena pulled her doll close, clutching the blankets. The light was just enough to see his familiar face, all twisted in something like a frown, his black hair mussed, and his brown eyes wet like they’d been the day It All Went Down.
“Daddy?” Her voice sounded tiny. She didn’t want it too, but she wasn’t sure she should be loud. The day It All Went Down, Daddy picked her up and held her and shushed her and she was afraid he’d shush her now.
“I’m so sorry, baby,” Daddy said. “I didn’t mean for this to happen. If I thought it could happen again, I would have stayed in Montana.”
Then Daddy grabbed something from the floor. Her duffle. He tossed it on the bed.
“You gotta stay here, baby, and be really really quiet, okay? My friends will come for you. They’ll take you to Aunt Leslie. You remember Aunt Leslie, right? She’ll take care of you.”
He leaned over, all sharp sweat and cologne. His arms went around her and he squeezed too hard.
She said, “Don’t wanna go with Aunt Leslie. Wanna stay with you.”
“You can’t, baby. I screwed up. Again. I screwed up again. I’m so sorry.” He ran his hand through her hair, kissed her crown (
, he usually said when he did that), squeezed even harder. “I love you. I love you more than life itself. Can you remember that much, at least? That I love you.”
Her heart was pounding. “I love you too, Daddy. Take me with you.”
“No, honey. I can’t. You’ll be okay. I promise. Aunt Leslie—she’s a good woman. She’ll raise you right.”
Raise? Daddy was raising Jhena. Daddy was raising Jhena alone ever since It All Went Down.
He put a finger over her mouth, shushing her. Then she heard the door close, the house telling someone that Daddy and Jhena were in the bedroom.
He stood up. “You stay here, okay? They’ll come back here, and they’ll take you to Aunt Leslie.”
“Wanna stay with you,” Jhena said, tears falling now.
“I want to stay with you too,” he said. “But we don’t always get what we want, honey. God, I wish I wasn’t the one to teach you that.”
He ran a hand over her head, cupped her chin, said, “I love you,” and then walked out of her bedroom, his back framed against the hall light, his shoulders square.
He didn’t look back.
But she kept looking at the space where he had been.
Looking and seeing nothing.
SIXTY YEARS AGO
ALONSO STOTT PULLED
open the door to their secret hiding place. Claudio had never seen his brother look so scared. Alonso’s black eyes were wide, his lips bleeding like he had bitten them.
They’d found this place in the back of the house, a totally non-networked room, like someone had built it just for them, and they had never told Mom and Dad.
The room was tiny and square, with some handmade blankets on the scuffed floor. The boys didn’t want anything in here made with nanofibers or that had any digital signatures. The boys didn’t even let the bots see them enter.
The room was secret, that’s what Alonso said, and Claudio believed him.
“You gotta get out of here,” Alonso said. Tears pooled in his eyes. “Hurry.”
“Why?” Claudio asked.
“The Wygnin are coming, and Daddy says—” Alonso’s voice broke, then he shook his head. “You gotta get out of here.”
“Mommy said the lawyers took care of the Wygnin.” Claudio knew about the Wygnin. The Wygnin were bad, bad, bad creatures, evil creatures, that didn’t like human people. Daddy had visited them and made them mad, and the Wygnin wanted Alonso for payment. The
Mommy said they’d never give up the firstborn, and Daddy said they shouldn’t worry, but Alonso worried. He found the room.
“Why can’t I stay here?” Claudio asked.
“I think Mom knows about it,” Alonso said. “You only got five minutes. Daddy’s getting guns.”
“To shoot the Wygnin?” Claudio asked.
Alonso shook his head, and more tears fell. “You go to that building I showed you, okay? You tell them you’re not the firstborn, and that you’ll never be firstborn, no matter what. You tell them to fight for you, okay?”
“Alonso, what’s going on?”
“You tell them,” Alonso said, his voice fierce. “I’m going to talk to Daddy.”