Authors: Mercedes Lackey,Cody Martin
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #General, #Alternative History
SILENCE - eARC
Advance Reader Copy
NEW YORK TIMES
BEST-SELLING AUTHOR. ENTRY #9 IN MERCEDES LACKEY'S CELEBRATED SERRATED EDGE URBAN FANTASY SERIES!
Teenager Staci’s father has just remarried, and now she finds herself being shunted aside by her new stepmother. Shunted all the way to the run-down and dying Maine town of Silence, in fact, and the custody of her alcoholic mother.
It gets worse. Silence seems to be stuck in the proverbial stone age. There’s no cell phone service except at the very top of a bluff outside of town, no internet except dialup, and not one familiar franchise or business. Staci’s mom seems to have gotten even worse since the last time Staci lived with her. The only bright spots in the whole place are a friendly waitress at the diner, and a bookstore where she meets a gaggle of geeks and gamers.
But all is not as it seems in Silence. There are strange things moving beneath the shabby surface, terrible plots in play, and deadly players in the game, and Staci is about to find herself caught up in the middle of it all.
BAEN BOOKS by MERCEDES LACKEY
THE SERRATED EDGE
with Larry Dixon
The Chrome Borne
with Larry Dixon
with Larry Dixon & Mark Shepherd
with Cody Martin
THE SECRET WORLD CHRONICLE
with Steve Libbey, Cody Martin & Dennis Lee
with Cody Martin, Dennis Lee & Veronica Giguere
with Cody Martin, Dennis Lee & Veronica Giguere
with Cody Martin, Dennis Lee, & Veronica Giguere
The Fire Rose
The Wizard of Karres
with Eric Flint & Dave Freer
with Anne McCaffrey & Margaret Ball
The Sword of Knowledge
with C.J. Cherryh, Leslie Fish & Nancy Asire
with Ellen Guon
Beyond World’s End
with Rosemary Edghill
Spirits White as Lightning w
ith Rosemary Edghill
with Rosemary Edghill
Music to My Sorrow
with Rosemary Edghill
ed. with Rosemary Edghill
HISTORICAL FANTASIES WITH ROBERTA GELLIS
This Scepter’d Isle
Ill Met by Moonlight
By Slanderous Tongues
And Less Than Kind
HEIRS OF ALEXANDRIA SERIES
by Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint & Dave Freer
The Shadow of the Lion
This Rough Magic
Much Fall of Blood
The Lark and the Wren
The Robin and the Kestrel
The Eagle and the Nightingales
The Free Bards
Four & Twenty Blackbirds
Bardic Choices: A Cast of Corbies
with Josepha Sherman
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 © 2016 by Mercedes Lackey & Cody Martin
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Larry Dixon
First printing, April 2016
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data: t/k
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
The shabby front porch of the run-down little wood-sided house was already full of boxes stacked four high, but Staci’s dad was bringing another load up from the rental van parked at the curb. At this rate, there might not be enough room to get in the front door.
He just can’t get rid of me fast enough,
she thought, her eyes stinging with the tears she refused to shed in front of him. She knew that he didn’t mean to hurt her, not really. He had always been such a nice man…and that was the problem, she supposed. Her parents had been divorced for a number of years at this point; once her mother developed her “habits” there was no more to be done to keep the marriage together. So, Staci had elected to stay with her father in New York City; she would visit her mother during the summers when she had her life together enough to take care of Staci for two or three months, but she had seldom managed to keep up the good behavior for the full season. Staci was usually back in New York before the end of August, more often than not leaving her mother sleeping off her latest drunk.
“Dad, there’s no room!” she said desperately. “Can’t we wait until Mom gets home so we can—”
“I’ve got to get the van back to the rental before five o’clock,” her father interrupted. He was trying to stay chipper, but it was all clearly forced. He didn’t dare meet her eyes as he continued to unload. “If we don’t get it back there before then, we’ll get hit with late fees.” This
did not include Staci, of course.
meant Dad and Brenda, and Brenda was the one who had arranged the rental in the first place.
Of course late fees would be unacceptable. Brenda, Staci’s new stepmother, wouldn’t approve.
Staci had wished for years for her father to find someone that he could be happy with. For a time, it was just him and her; when she was younger, she imagined just the two of them having adventures together forever. He had always been kind and patient with her, even doting at times. As Staci grew older, she started to notice the sad looks and the heavy sighs, always followed by a smile. She knew that he needed someone. Then, two years ago, he had started dating Brenda.
She had seemed so nice; she’d seemed interested in Staci, even going so far as to buy her clothing, movies and music she actually liked. She was pretty, blond, and very ambitious for Staci’s dad’s career, as opposed to what Staci remembered
mom being like—always complaining that Dad spent too much time at the firm, and “they never had fun anymore.” “Fun” being going out to bars and drinking half the night, so far as Staci could tell. Staci had worried briefly about where Brenda’s son Tommy was going to fit when the two started talking marriage—Tommy was a spoiled little shit, and she couldn’t imagine him doing without his own room—but then she just assumed they’d move somewhere else. Somewhere bigger. After all, why not? In fact, she’d started to look
to that, browsing through apartment listings for newer (much newer), brighter buildings. Places that had been renovated some time in
century. The whispered conversations about “rent-controlled diamonds” had just whizzed over her head.
Now, of course, she understood. Dad had inherited his rent-controlled apartment from
parents, and you couldn’t lease a broom closet in New York City for what he was paying for the place she had called home all her life. All this had been carefully explained to her. Along with lines like “we can’t possibly afford Tommy’s school if we live here” and “you’ll love living in Maine; you’ll have so much more room!”
After the shock of what was coming had worn off, Staci had tried to talk, even plead with her father. But, he was such a nice man…and Brenda had him wrapped around her little finger, completely. Lately, when he had tried to reassure her that this was for the best, it sounded like he was trying to convince himself a little bit, as well.
New wife, new family, new life. Out with the old…me.
Dad managed to wedge another stack of boxes onto the porch, though the wood planks underfoot groaned in protest. The view from the porch wasn’t anything to inspire confidence in this “wonderful new life.” This was a street of identical wooden houses, most of them painted in colors of faded gray or dirty white, most of them needing a coat of paint they obviously were not going to get. Dad had enthused about “genuine New England saltbox homes” but all Staci saw was the general air of decrepitude. The sidewalk was cracked, the street had potholes and lumps, and the grass, trees and shrubs all looked unkempt and ragged. Dad had used words like “rustic” and “old-fashioned” to describe the neighborhood on the drive in. Staci had a few different, less flattering words in mind. “Shantytown” sprang to mind.…
Silence, Maine was too small to actually have a slum, but this part of town would have counted for being “on the wrong side of the tracks” if the place had actually had tracks running through it. Staci had never actually been here before; her mother had moved (abruptly, as she always did) around the first of this year. Now she had to wonder what had driven Mom to move
in the first place. If you were looking for a place to have a good time in—which was all Mom was ever interested in—this sure wasn’t it. Aside from the crying of gulls, the only sounds in this neighborhood were the ones she and Dad were making.
“There we go, this is the last!” Dad said cheerfully, somehow managing to get the last stack of boxes onto the porch without blocking the door. “I’ve got to move if I’m going to get the van back in time!” He let go of the dolly, made an air kiss in the direction of her cheek, and practically ran back to the van. “Have fun settling in, kiddo!”
And before she could voice so much as a word of protest, he had started the van and was driving off down the street. She hadn’t cried in front of her father; there had been no time, with everything moving so quickly. But she did cry now. There was no one to see her do it, besides. She collapsed on the sagging steps and sobbed into her hands until her eyes were sore and her nose plugged up. When she finally ran out of energy to even cry, she checked her watch. It wasn’t even noon yet; her mother wasn’t due home from her job for at least another five or six hours. Maybe more.
She pulled out her cell phone. At least she could get some sympathy from her friends—
But there were
bars on the phone. She stared at it in disbelief. How could there be
cell phone service?
Maybe the phone was broken. She tried calling a number, hitting one from her list at random.
Nothing. No ringtone. No dial tone. Not even an “out of service” signal. She broke down all over again.
* * *
Since there had been nothing else to do, she’d managed to get the boxes into the house by herself. She’d considered leaving them there, but Mom would be no help at all, she already knew that, and this was a pretty sketchy-looking neighborhood. So she managed to unlock the door with the key that Mom had sent her, and wrestle them all into what passed for a living room. There was plenty of space in there, anyway; there was nothing but an old TV that wasn’t even an LCD screen, but an ugly tube thing, a saggy old sofa concealed by what looked like a threadbare bedspread, and a couple of mismatched, third-hand chairs. One was covered in a hideous blue-and-beige print, the other in faux leather, cracked and with tufts of something coming out at the corners. By that time she was starving, but a quick look in the fridge showed nothing but a lot of diet drink meals, some diet soda, a bottle of vodka, and a pepperoni pizza that was so dry that it had to be a week old.
Her father had shoved a bank envelope into the pocket of her jacket before they’d gotten out of the van. She hadn’t looked at it yet.
I might as well head into town and try to find something to eat; I’ll be on my own for dinner, anyways.
Her mother wasn’t very big on home-cooked meals; Chinese takeout, delivery pizza, and frozen dinners were the norm whenever Staci had stayed with her in the past. This town wasn’t
big, and she was used to walking. New Yorkers were; they walked to the subway, walked to the bus, walked to the
or another corner store, walked to local eateries and coffee shops, walked up and down stairs a lot; even her dad, a lawyer, didn’t have his own car. That was, in no small part, because parking spots cost as much as apartments. She locked the door carefully behind herself, shoved her hands in her pockets, and went looking for whatever passed for a “downtown” here.
It was supposed to be the beginning of summer, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell by the weather. It was overcast, chilly, and everything was damp from the barest drizzle of rain. A couple of times a minute, gusts of wind would tug at her hair and jacket, making her shiver and want to turn around and go back to the house, which at least was warm. But she had started out hungry and now was starving, and trying to make something edible out of that dead pizza wasn’t going to happen. All of the trees were barely greening up and still shedding dead leaves, which were sticking to her boots as she trudged towards the center of town. She didn’t see very many people out and about; who would want to do much of anything in this kind of weather?
I guess the likeliest place for downtown would be near the water?
They hadn’t passed through anything she recognized as a city center when they’d driven in here, but then, her dad had been following directions on the van’s GPS, and they’d come in from the west. She squinted up at the sky, and guessed at “east” by the pale ball of the sun behind the dead gray clouds.
She walked for about ten blocks, and the only reason she realized she
downtown, was because what she had taken for houses had signs over their doors, big glass windows, and there were some old cars parked out front. Oh, and when she stopped and stared in partial disbelief, she saw there wasn’t even the sparse patches of grass that passed for a front lawn in her mom’s neighborhood. Which wasn’t unlike the neighborhood she had lived in back home, except that these were all house-sized and -shaped buildings, rather than being multistoried places that might have businesses on the ground floor but were all apartments above.
Maybe her mom didn’t live in a sketchy neighborhood after all. These buildings were just as faded, and just as much in need of paint, as back there. Once, the colors might have been bright, especially the ones that had been painted barn-red, but not anymore.
She peered down the street, looking in vain for anything she recognized, but there wasn’t even a McDonald’s or a Starbucks. She hunched her shoulders against the wind and headed for a worn “Sinclair” sign, which looked like one that hadn’t been changed since the ’50s. But there should be a mini-mart at least, right?
Wrong. Four pumps, and a two-bay garage, with a pop machine and a candy-bar machine. Both looked like antiques. She shuddered to think how long it must have been since either were stocked, and what might be in them, and kept going. The signs were swaying in the wind, and without familiar logos on them, it was hard to tell what they were for until she was right on top of them. It was disorienting, actually. She’d never been in a place that had so little that was recognizable before. The last town Mom had landed in had been nothing
franchises and box-stores, with a liberal peppering of liquor stores and tattoo parlors in between.
She studied the signs as she passed under them. A hardware store, with dust-covered stuff in the window that looked as if it hadn’t been changed in years. “Dry Goods?” What was that? There was fabric and sewing stuff in the window…but why wasn’t it called a fabric or craft store? A post office. A lawyer, the windows painted black with gold lettering. “Package Goods” turned out to be a liquor store.
“Giuseppe’s Pizzeria.” It was probably the same place the mummified pie in the fridge had come from. The cardboard sign in the door was turned to OPEN, and although she couldn’t see inside thanks to the red-and-white checkerboard of paint on the bottom half of the window, the window itself looked clean and the sidewalk and cement step had been swept. The paint was faded, but at least it wasn’t peeling and cracked. She pushed the door open; an actual
got tripped and jingled as she went inside.
There were four little round-topped tables, with plastic tablecloths in red-and-white check on them, and uncomfortable-looking wooden chairs painted white around them. At the rear was a brown wood counter, with nobody behind it, but the sound of the bell must have alerted the owner, because he came in through a door with a curtain over it that was behind the counter, wiping his hands on a towel. He was a worn-looking man with gray threads in his hair, in a checked flannel shirt with an apron over it. Both looked second-hand, but they were clean, at least, as was the “dining room.”
“What can I do for you?” he asked, in that accent that she associated with Maine from TV programs.
“I’m starving,” she said. “What’s fast to make?”
“Calzone,” he replied, gesturing at the hand-painted price-board on the wall behind him. “Ten minutes.” She searched in vain for something like salad or even pasta. Nothing. Calzone, pizza, garlic bread, and drinks were all that were offered. With a sigh, she dug the bank envelope out of her pocket and extracted a twenty. “Cheese and mushroom calzone, a cola, and a large pizza to go,” she said. “Mushrooms, olives, peppers, tomatoes.” That was going to be the closest she was going to get to anything healthy, it appeared. “Can I have the cola now?” The sugar would probably stop her stomach from growling.
“Coming right up, miss. Find a seat wherever you like while you wait.”
Staci picked a table by the window; it was the most well-lit spot in the entire restaurant, even with the checker paint covering the lower part of the window. She kept trying with her cell phone to find a signal; nothing here either. At least the smells coming from the unseen kitchen were nice. After all these years of spending summers with Mom, Staci had a good nose for awful grease-bomb food. A survival tactic, as it were.