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Authors: Karl Schroeder

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Pirate Sun (28 page)

BOOK: Pirate Sun
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He pictured the faces of men and women coming to this dais to petition him—and for some reason the face that stood out was that of Corbus. What would the former Atlas have said about this turn of events? He would have nodded in disgust and turned away. Even Antaea had accused Chaison of being just another aristocrat, out of touch with the people.

The more Chaison thought about it, the more the idea of ruling filled him with the same claustrophobic dread that he’d felt in those nights in the cell when he’d drifted away from the walls. To be trapped here, bound by the ultimate bonds of tradition and responsibility, and doomed to be as out of touch with everyday people as it was possible to be.

Venera was watching him, frowning slightly. She had always been ambitious for him, and him taking the pilot’s post would be the ultimate career move from her point of view. Knowing how fury and resentment had simmered in her in recent years, what could he expect from her if he said no to this chance?

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth—and Venera put her hand on his heart. “It sounds delicious,” she said, “but I believe my husband’s answer is no. He has no desire to be pilot.”

Chaison stared at her in astonishment. Venera closed her eyes and tossed her hair. “I, on the other hand…”

He had to laugh, and she joined in. “No, on third thought, perhaps not,” she said.

Chaison looked into her eyes. This was not the woman he’d left at Candesce’s border those many months ago. “What—”

“Sir!” He looked up to see a familiar face emerging from the crowd. Chaison shouted, letting go of Venera long enough to clap him on the shoulders. “Travis! Were you part of this conspiracy?”

Venera stood back, pouting—but not entirely unhappily—as the young officer shook Chaison’s hand. “Admiral…what are we looking at?”

“The future government of Slipstream, I suspect.” Seeing the expressions that came over the faces of Travis and his fighters, he frowned. “No, not me.
Them.
” He pointed at the crowd of milling citizens.

“Them?” Venera scowled at the delegation. “I’d make a better pilot than any of these plebeians.” Then she caught Chaison’s eye with another sly look. “But I suspect that I couldn’t rule better than
all
of them.” She bowed to the crowd. “The nation is yours. May your reign be long and wise.”

Applause started and it seemed to Chaison like the perfect moment for a kiss—but just then a shout echoed down the hall. They all looked up to see the figure of a short, red-faced man in a captain’s uniform hopping from foot to foot near the far entrance. It was Airgrove, the captain of the
Severance
.

“My God, what have you
done,
Fanning!” he roared. “We only wanted to talk to the man, not shoot him! If I’d known you were going to—”

A hand of flame and smoke picked Airgrove up and tossed him ten feet. Smoke roiled through the hall entrance and a slender form staggered out of it. She fell to her hands and knees.

Coughing, Antaea tried to rise, but fell back. She spoke, but the wind snatched away her words. She tried again: “Chaison, I tried to keep them out—”

The thing that looked like Telen Argyre strode past Antaea as if she wasn’t even there. It froze Chaison’s blood to see her again. The human-shaped AI’s clothing was torn, her skin dotted with black bullet holes, but there was no blood. She scanned the vast room once and her eyes fixed on Venera. She broke into a run.

“Chaison, who is—?”

He grabbed Venera’s arm. “Do you have the key with you?” She stared at him and he shook her in frustration. “The key to Candesce! Do you have it?”

“I…I always have it.” She glanced down at her jacket.

“Shoot!”
He pointed at Telen Argyre as he dragged Venera toward the window. “Shoot that woman!”

Townspeople screamed and dove for cover as the
Severance
’s airmen opened fire. Shreds of cloth, hair, and skin peppered the air behind Argyre; her features distorted as bullets impacted her nose and forehead. Still she kept coming.

Chaison looked around. They had retreated as far as they could and were now standing over the body of the pilot. Bullets wouldn’t kill this thing; there was only one way he could see to end it but the Argyre-monster would be too smart to fall for that. Unless he gave it exactly what it wanted…

“Sorry, dear,” he said, and pushed Venera into its path. Venera shrieked as Argyre reached out clawlike hands to paw at her jacket. She ripped free the white key to Candesce and held it up triumphantly.

Chaison tackled her.

It was like running into a wall, and if not for the powerful suction of the broken windows Argyre might have been unmoved. As it was she staggered and a moment later she and Venera and Chaison were through. All the breath left Chaison and his vision blurred as the palace’s rotation shot them away at more than a hundred miles per hour. He glimpsed a red-and-black form and angled his body toward it. A moment later he was clutching Venera’s waist, and she opened her wings and they began to brake.

He looked behind them in time to see something silver flash in the light of two suns. The precipice moth dove at Telen Argyre and she screamed, a weird and inhuman noise like a failing siren, before disappearing in a whirl of talons.

Chaison and Venera held each other tightly as her wings shuddered above them. Gradually, their rushing wind became a tolerable breeze. They were still falling—had already left the palace a mile behind—but their speed was no longer fatal.

Endless skies surrounded them, sky above and below, sky to left and right. White clouds dotted the blue in an infinity of receding patterns. Free and alive in that sky were all the birds and fish, the habitations of men, and men and women themselves, of Chaison’s childhood and youth. His sun still shone, even if it had a new companion.

The precipice moth finished its work of destruction. It had left a smear of debris on the sky, but as it flapped stolidly away he saw that it clutched something small and white between the points of two talons. “So much for the key,” he said.

“It’s for the best,” said Venera. She hugged him tightly as the warm air slid by. They stayed like that for a long time, until she suddenly frowned.

“None of this would have been necessary,” she accused, “if you’d just stayed put like you were told to.”

“Stayed put? What are you talking about?”

“At the prison. When I came to rescue you. It was a brilliant plan if I do say so myself, but you blew it all to hell when you insisted on rescuing your men…”

“That was you?”

“Of course it was
me.
Who did you think it was?”

“You searched for me afterward?”

“High and low. I just missed you at that ruined town, Songly, and then again at Stonecloud…”

“You spread the rumors that I was returning.”

She nodded.

“This alias of yours…”

“From Spyre. I stayed there a while.” She brightened as if remembering something. “I would have brought you a horse…but it fell off the edge when the world ended.”

“What?”

“I’ll explain later.”

There was a long silence.

“So you like women with big eyes?”

“Uh, Antaea’s just a…well, she handed me over to that monster, actually.”

“Since when has a woman’s duplicity given you pause?”

“Actually…I’m partial to one particular duplicitous woman, who has a history of saving my life.”

“Hmm, yes,” she said breezily, “I never did regret blackmailing my father into letting you marry me.”

“What?”

“I’m sorry, did I say that out loud?”

There was another long silence. Then:

“What’s so funny?”

“You and I, Miss ‘Thrace-Guiles,’” he said as he laughed, “clearly have a lot of catching up to do.”

Tor Books by Karl Schroeder

Lady of Mazes

Permanence

Ventus

Sun of Suns

Queen of Candesce

Pirate Sun

Acknowledgments

This series has been guided by the insights and suggestions of a number of excellent people. My first reader has always been my wife, Janice, and without her my manuscripts would probably be riddled with inconsistencies and errors. Many of my readers have contributed enthusiastic suggestions and even calculated the engineering feasibility of Virga (particular thanks to Vernor Vinge for “running the numbers”). As usual, the Cecil Street Irregulars, a weekly writing workshop started by Judith Merril more than twenty years ago, provided key insights into character and plot; and of course, this book ultimately owes its existence to David G. Hartwell, who suggested that I take the time to complete the full suite of ideas and themes first introduced in
Sun of Suns
.

About the Author

Karl Schroeder lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with his wife and daughter. Although he has a reputation for being knowledgeable in many subjects and has been erroneously described as a physicist, he didn’t finish high school (because he was too busy writing his first novel) and is almost entirely self-taught. In addition to writing science fiction and blogging for sites such as
WorldChanging.com
, Karl consults on the future of technology and culture for clients such as the Canadian government and army. His Web site is
www.karlschroeder.com
.

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

PIRATE SUN
:
BOOK THREE OF VIRGA
Copyright © 2008 by Karl Schroeder

All rights reserved.

Edited by David G. Hartwell

A Tor Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010

www.tor-forge.com

Tor® is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Schroeder, Karl, 1962–
      Pirate sun / Karl Schroeder.—1st ed.
             p. cm.—(Virga; bk. 3)
       “A Tom Doherty Associates book.”
      ISBN: 978-0-7653-1545-8
      I. Title.

      PR9199.3.S269 P57 2008
      813'.54—dc22

2008022149

BOOK: Pirate Sun
7.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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