Read Pirate Sun Online

Authors: Karl Schroeder

Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Space Opera, #Fiction

Pirate Sun (6 page)

BOOK: Pirate Sun
4.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Fingers trembling, Antaea restored the original picture. She glanced at the unmoving figure on the bed. She nodded to herself.

She would need every advantage she could get. And sympathy for this foreign admiral was the one thing she could not afford, if Telen was to survive.

4

CHAISON AWOKE GRADUALLY.
He should have relished the feeling of freedom and gravity against his back; but instead he found himself immersed in sad doubt. As his eyes started to open he clenched them shut against the light, vision darting left and right at the roseate emptiness as he struggled to locate the source of the feeling.

There it was: last night he had fallen asleep to the feel of gravity pulling at him, and thought it wonderful. Now all he could think was that the last time he had lain so, Venera had been beside him.

He could see her face, her brave smile, as they’d parted for the last time. He was on his way to Falcon Formation in the
Rook,
she on her way into the blazing epicenter of Candesce. Chaison had known that she had been able to enter the sun of suns and that she had caused the outage, because the
Rook
’s radar had operated flawlessly for twelve hours during his attack against Falcon’s fleet.

Chaison opened his eyes to behold the plank ceiling of the couple’s hostel. An unwaveringly steady wind rattled the windows. He let out a long, shuddering sigh.

Venera Fanning was cunning, ruthless, and pragmatic. In the heat of battle she had shot people without hesitation. She had even bartered with pirates for the lives of Chaison’s crew.

Still, she would have had to escape Candesce after the outage, and evade the roving ships of Gehellen, a nation that had put a price on all the Slipstreamers’ heads.

Was she languishing in some Gehellenite prison right now? It was a thought he’d managed to avoid all these months, but now he couldn’t shake it.

He rolled onto his side and levered himself upright, then wobbled to his feet.

“Ah!” Antaea emerged from the suite’s small privy. He blinked at her in surprise.

She had changed into a colorful silk blouse and loose pants, and a big pair of round sunglasses covered her gigantic eyes. After her flying leathers, this was an unexpectedly feminine look.

“Where did you get that?”

Antaea cocked her head. “From my luggage. You should buy a knapsack, you know. You’ll be conspicuous traveling without it.”

He looked down at the drab day-laborer’s clothes he’d acquired at the farm: toeless boots, stovepipe canvas pants of dull gray, and a sleeveless suede shirt. There were several pouches attached to the belt; all were currently empty.

He struggled to shake off his depression. “Money,” he said slowly. “And personal effects and…official papers, I suppose.” What did they use in Falcon? He vaguely knew that it was a monumentally bureaucratic state where you needed a passport to go to the bathroom.

Antaea was holding out something: a sheaf of just such papers. “Already done,” she said. “I’ve been up for hours. I thought you needed your sleep.”

“I did, thanks.” A little annoyed at himself for letting her get so far ahead of him, he took the papers, examined them, then slid them into one of the pouches. “Denarian. What kind of name is that?”

“It’s our family name,
husband,
don’t forget it,” she said with a grin. “Do you feel up to a walk up the street?”

He eyed the door. This hostel was at about a quarter of a gravity, but even that made the exit seem miles distant. But, though gray, the light welling in from outside was full daylight. If he was supposed to have business in this town it would be suspicious if he kept to his room.

“We need papers for my men too,” he said. “Where did you get those, by the way?” He took a cautious step toward the door.

“My contact,” she said. Her cool fingers wrapped around his bicep to steady him. “The same one I got the wings from. We’re going to see him, actually—just as soon as we find the ambassador.”

She assumed she was setting the agenda; well, let her—for now. Then he realized what she’d just said. “Richard? You can’t find him?…That means you did find Darius.”


He
was waiting where he was supposed to be,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Richard had risen even earlier than I, and staggered out the door somewhere. He’s probably lying in an alley somewhere by now, unable to stand—so we’d better hurry.”

Chaison cursed, and pushed open the door to the vision of a cloud-wreathed sky and the morning bustle of the town.

Songly looked like it might hold seven or eight thousand people, whose dwellings were mostly strung along or above a wooden hoop a mile and a half in diameter and one hundred feet wide. At four points around the circle, clustered jet engines stuck into the airflow beyond the wheel’s rim. Chaison could hear their roar and feel their pull every now and then, as they strained to keep the town spinning fast enough to produce gravity on the hoop.

The wooden street holding the hostel curved upward ahead and behind him, ending in a tiny-looking railing about three hundred feet away in either direction. It gave the hostel the appearance of being at the bottom of a giant bow of planking and rope. He walked to the side-rail of the narrow street, reaching up to grasp a taut rope that thrummed in the steady wind of the town’s rotation. He looked down a dizzying vertical drop to see the roofs of houses and other buildings that clung to the inner surface of the narrow strip of wood. The people had built them high here because there was no horizontal space for growth. As a result Songly’s main street was shadowed at the bottom of a slot walled with buildings.

Overshadowing this main avenue other partial streets hung suspended in the rigging of the spokes. These lay at different heights and none of them were fully circular, but traced arcs of different lengths. The high streets held farmer’s markets, micro-g rookeries and gardens, and bike warehouses. Ladders, stairways, and cage elevators connected them to one another, to the main street and up to the wheel’s axle.

The travelers’ hostels were located on one such high street, which hung in the quarter-g zone dizzyingly far above the main hoop.

Chaison and Antaea found a cage elevator, and in short order they were inching their way down to Songly’s main street. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected from Falcon Formation, something more regimented and sinister, he supposed, and there were some hints of that. People wore a sort of uniform, a gray affair of shirt, jacket, and slacks that had different kinds of lapels on it signifying different societal roles. On the other hand, most people seemed to have customized their garb, adding spots of color or bright scarves in apparent defiance of their attire’s drabness.

Physically, the town looked like any other. The air around it was crowded with the usual free-floating buildings, cargo nets full of supplies, gigantic balls of water and waste, and boats. The boats were the only surprise: Falcon’s dark reputation hadn’t prepared Chaison for the bright colors of their flower-shaped vessels, typically just a big basket with anywhere from two to five big petal-shaped wings made of wicker stretched with cloth. People standing in the basket could tilt the petals or swing them up and down. They were typically flown by several people with their backs braced against the bottom of the basket, each using his or her feet to work the spar of a petal. Glimpsed from the elevator they looked like animate flowers, opening and closing, slowly pulsating their way across the sky.

The elevator touched down in crushing gravity and Chaison staggered onto Main Street. Darius Martor slouched out of a nearby doorway, looking about as guilty and self-conscious as it was possible for a boy to get. People were ignoring him, luckily; many of those striding to and fro here were day laborers or students as he was pretending to be, and many would be visitors. After breakfast they would leave the wheel in a swarm, dispersing to farms, foundries, fish farms, and all the other sundry industries that were easier to conduct in freefall than under gravity. Some left by simply jumping over the rail into weightless air; Songly was only rotating at sixty miles per hour or so, so the workers could unfold their wings into the rushing air stream and dart away with ease. Some kids were doing the same—not to leave the town, but simply stepping outside it to let it spin past before snatching a bungee rope to reel themselves back in half a mile or more away. The air around the town was full of swooping, diving forms.

Soon Songly’s heaviest street would be deserted. It would be easier to find Richard then, but it would also be easier for the secret police to run them down.

Luckily gravity-challenged visitors were common here; canes were plentiful for those unused to gravity. Despite his sense of urgency, Chaison trudged slowly into the main street. Antaea’s heels sank into the wood with every step, and made a slight pop when she raised her feet. Darius hesitated, shifting from foot to foot about forty feet away, until Chaison grimaced and gestured him over.

Chaison looked left and right, then headed right. “You think he went this way?” asked Antaea.

“He’ll be driven to head downward,” said Chaison with a shrug.
Down
wasn’t a direction in any normal sense: if you walked opposite the town’s spin, you weighed a bit less and felt like you were walking down a slope even though the street was level.
Up
the street meant in the direction that the wheel turned. It felt like you were climbing an incline if you walked in that direction; hence, many towns had public conveyances that traveled only in the up direction. Songly was not big enough for such conveniences. In his weakened state Richard would almost certainly have taken the easier way.

“Sorry I lost him, Admiral,” said Darius. “We didn’t bunk in the same room. Didn’t want to draw attention to ourselves.”

“Don’t call me that, damnit.” Chaison was having trouble concentrating; the sheer number of people, the gabble of voices, sudden gestures, and shouts were nerve-wracking. It had been months since he had seen more than two men at a time, and those he had shied away from. The market stalls were crowded together cheek by jowl, many with nothing but turning blue sky as their backdrop. He wanted nothing more than to totter back to the suite and collapse on the bed, so his thoughts about Richard Reiss were turning murderous when Antaea grabbed his arm and pointed.

“Look. The pols.”

He shuddered involuntarily. There were four of them, “secret” policemen who were not secret at all but swaggering goons in the pay of the state. They were entering the town’s market, a madcap tunnel of buildings and balconies and stairs that absorbed the street and houses a hundred feet ahead. Each policeman swung a baton loosely, and seemingly at random they were stopping people and demanding to see their papers.

One raised his club to rap a man on the shoulder. The citizen exclaimed in anger and started to turn—then, seeing who had struck him, he ducked off to one side, bowing slightly.

As he moved out of the way Chaison spotted Richard Reiss.

The ambassador was sitting cross-legged on the planking not ten feet from the oncoming policemen. He had a small wooden box in front of him and was doing something with his hands, waving them in the air. There was a crowd of children half-encircling him.

“What,” Antaea hissed, “is the idiot doing?”

Chaison watched Richard’s lips moving, and realized that he had been hearing him for almost a minute already. He hadn’t realized it was Richard because the accent was perfect Falcon.

“Beware the wrath of my mighty Sword of Documentation!” boomed Richard Reiss as he raised one hand dramatically. “You shall not pass, lest you sign all these forms and in triplicate!”

The children were laughing.

The secret policemen walked up to the Slipstream ambassador.

One of them glanced at Richard; another nudged the first and pointed in another direction; and they all walked on.

“I don’t believe it,” muttered Antaea. Richard Reiss lifted the string puppets he had been manipulating, and managed to get them to walk on the box in perfect imitation of the secret policemen. The kids howled with laughter, slapping each other on the backs and pointing at the targets of Richard’s jape.

Richard looked up and spotted Chaison. “The world is safe from the Undocumented—for now,” he declaimed. The puppets turned and bowed to one another. “Come back in ten minutes for another show.” The children dispersed, chuckling, and Richard grinned as Chaison and Antaea walked up.

“A small donation would be appreciated, citizens,” he said loudly. Antaea gave Chaison a long-suffering glance, then dug in her satchel. Quickly she stooped and slipped something to Richard; Chaison caught a glimpse of white and knew it was his identity papers.

With difficulty, Richard levered himself to his feet. “I was trying to keep ahead of those chaps,” he said, nodding at the policemen. “Didn’t think I’d make it another ten feet, when I spotted these puppets for sale at one of the market stalls. Lucky thing one of those jailors of ours had a little loose change in his purse.” He patted his stomach as if puzzled at how little there was to his waistline. “Alas, I no longer have enough for breakfast. I was hoping some of the children would be forthcoming…”

Chaison had to laugh. “Quick thinking, Richard.—And the accent—”

“A close observation of people throughout my life, and a somewhat unhealthy obsession with fitting in,” observed the ambassador, “have over the years given me some useful skills.”

“Come,” said Antaea. “We have an appointment.”

“Ah—with a friendly meal, I hope?”

 

CHAISON HAD NOT
missed the prominent posters that festooned every wall in the market. Some were old, and said things like
COMPLIANCE BREEDS SECURITY
and
REPORT STRANGERS
. The only reassuring note was sounded by one big poster proclaiming the imminent visit of a circus, featuring Corbus,
STRONGEST MAN ALIVE
! This sheet was half-covered, though, with new pictures showing young men with chiseled jaws and perfect biceps holding guns aloft and gazing into some idealized distance. These had captions like
JOIN THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
and
IF YOU HESITATE
,
WE ARE LOST
. They suggested several ominous possibilities, so when Antaea rapped on the side door of a tall whitewashed building, he was ready with questions.

BOOK: Pirate Sun
4.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Articulate Mammal by Aitchison, Jean
¿Qué es el cine? by André Bazin
Murder at the Book Fair by Steve Demaree
My Best Man by Andy Schell
Extra Time by Michelle Betham
Wanting You by Ryan Michele
The Turning by Tim Winton
Anna and the Vampire Prince by Jeanne C. Stein