So, I forgot today is Sunday

Mostly because we have been looking for a place to move to, and the days ran together.

NONE of my colleagues reminded me either, which means next time I’m ignoring them when they’re late, instead of poking, too.

Okay…  I have a new beginning for Through Fire, and you’ll have to be happy with that.  I’m now where I can see the end and I’m frankly… never has a book of mine surprised me this much.

Oh, yeah, and this is free on Amazon for the next four days:

It’s a very odd YA from me, but it was done because someone had a hole in an anthology about a magical school and asked me for a story.  So, there it is.

 

 Through Fire

Fire And Blood

 

 

Breach in The Wall

 

When people worshipped human-like gods – only faster, smarter, stronger – there were tales of children of the gods given to normal humans to raise; and tales of humans who put their children through the fire, giving them to the gods.

Neither worked well.

My name is Zenobia. It means spirit of Zeus. I was created as the female clone of Jarl Ingemar, a legendary hero on two worlds. My creators thought me a child of the gods.

So did the all-too-human family who raised me in awe and terror. I don’t know if they ever said it in so many words, but they always treated me as though I were different: stronger, faster, smarter, set apart from everyone else.

By the time I was three I’d learned never to ask for help. My parents neither expected me to need it, nor did they offer instruction.

I was expected to know everything without being taught, to face everything without fear, and to outsmart and outcompete everyone else.

By the time I was three, I’d learned never to cry. It wasn’t that they punished me for doing it. It was the disappointed and betrayed look on their faces when I showed weakness.

I don’t mean to complain. By and large my adoptive parents were right, and I was capable of facing down everything thrown at me, bullies and difficult lessons alike.

Until I ran headlong into the one problem I could neither fix nor get around. That problem had cost my husband his life and had sent me fleeing headlong from the small, hidden colony planet of my birth to the Earth those who’d made me had left centuries before. The Earth from which the ancestors of those who raised me had fled centuries ago.

And then I’d thought I’d escaped, and I’d never have to meet another situation where I had to choose death for someone else for whom I cared. I thought I’d never feel that small, that helpless again.

But when you’re destined to pass through the fire, you can’t escape it. It will follow you until you turn and face it and walk through it unafraid.

I’m not sure when this second trial started. Not exactly. The escape from Eden? The arrival to Earth? The decision not to return? The six months spent as guest of a Good Man, one of the powerful rulers of Earth? Or I could start when I shot my husband. But no. Suffice to say that was what I’d come to Earth to escape.

I could start with that moment when I stood in front of the mirror, trying to find a way to disfigure myself, to make myself look average, and the armed man by the door said, “You’re going about it all wrong,” but you should know how I got there.

I’ll start with the galla ball and the explosion.

It was the first ball I attended and likely the last. The place where I grew up, a secret asteroid colony started by refuges from Earth, had never run to balls or grand state occasions. Oh, we had a cultural center and sometimes there were dances there. But they were smaller dances and informal. We had no government. At least we had no official government. For the sort of ball that starts this story, a government is needed – something that controls central resources and can do things in style. I’d say more than that was needed too: a sense of hereditary splendor, of being the last of a line entitled and accustomed to command and deference.

Perhaps even more. Perhaps for the grandeur and pomp of that first and last ball, a sense is needed of decadence and falling glory.

We assembled in the ballroom of what used to be the palace of the Good Men of Liberte Seacity: a glittering room formed of molded dimatough from its glistening black floor to its softly shining white walls.

Within it, enough people gathered to form more than a hundred couples, all of them dressed in fantastical finery. There were outfits that seemed to be spun of butterfly wings, and those that seemed to defy the shape of the human body. And there was clothing that harked back to the fantastical age of empires almost seven hundred years before – long, sweeping dresses and molding outfits in materials that were better than velvet and silk. My own dress was made of a form of ceramic. It felt like satin to the touch, but its dull black heft shone with pinpoints of light, as if stars were caught in its depths. Simon, the owner of the palace and ruler of Liberte had picked it for me.

Liberte Seacity had been formed by a bankers’ consortium at the close of the twenty first century, and like the other seacities back then it was supposed to be a refuge from high taxes and excessive government regulation and oversight.  Unlike other seacities, it had never been designed to have any industry, any useful output. Instead, it owned other seacities – Shangri-la, Xanadu and, later, several European territories – where the workday business took place. Liberte itself had been designed as a resort for those at the pinnacle of that long-vanished world. It climbed up in terraces, all carefully landscaped gardens and idyllic beaches, like a dream of an Arcadia that never was. Its inevitable utilitarian levels, where valets and maids, law enforcers and garbage collectors lived were hidden, out of sight.

Approaching Liberte from the air, as I’d first done it, one saw it only as a sort of white and green confection, something like an idealized wedding cake.

The palace of the Good Man was the topping on the cake: white and surrounded by columns and terraces, built with an airy grace that would have been impossible without poured dimatough and sculpted ceramite, it might have fit a previous age’s dream of a fairy palace, an immortal fantasy.

The ballroom sat at the very top, and its walls alternated with vast panels of transparent dimatough, through which – as the night fell – you could watch the sea, glistening in every direction, all around us, blue and still like a perfect mirror.

You could also see the troop transports moored in that sea, reminders of the vast, dark menace that encircled us, the much larger forces massed against Simon and the other rebels.

“Why are you looking out the window?” Simon St. Cyr, ci-devant Good Man of Liberty Seacity, who, by a stroke of the pen, had made himself “Protector of the People and Head of the Glorious Revolution,” just a day ago.

I turned. Simon – who has at least another dozen given names to his credit – stood just behind me. He was slightly shorter than I; had brown hair, brown eyes and looked unremarkable. Which I’d come to believe was protective coloring to stop people wondering what he might be plotting. He too, had been made, designed as the clone of a superman. He was of me, of my kind. Flesh of my flesh. But his journey had started before mine, and taken him to a strange place, where half of his utterances seemed foolish, the other half annoying.

He put a hand out and rested it on my waist, long fingers transmitting an impression of controlled strength through the pliable fabric.

“I’m looking at those troop carriers,” I said.

“Oh, that,” he said and shrugged a little, contriving to give the impression the glistening transports, each of them able to carry more than a thousand armed men, were a negligible detail like a spec of dust on the floor of his polished ballroom. “Don’t worry, ma petit.”

I’d not yet decided if Simon’s habit of larding his speech with archaic French words annoyed me or amused me, but calling me “little” was beyond reason, since I had at least two inches on him. Impatience colored my tone, as I said, “But shouldn’t you be worried? These people depend on you for their safety.”

He made a sound, not quite a chuckle at the back of his throat. “And they’re perfectly safe,” he said. “Listen, those troop carriers aren’t going to do anything, pour cause.”

“And the cause is?”

“Oh, ma petite. The cause is I have it on good authority they’re mostly empty. The Usaian revolution is keeping the Good Men fully busy, and costing them more men than they can recruit, unless they start creating people in vats, as they did at the end of the twenty first century. Until they do that, though, the Usaians are giving them more trouble than they can handle. And since people created in vats still have to grow up, I’d say we have a good fifteen years respite.” He looked at me, and his brown eyes danced with unmitigated amusement, like an adult laughing at the preoccupations of a toddler. “Listen, Zen. I wouldn’t have declared the revolution if I hadn’t thought there were next to no chances of reprisal by the ancien regime, the global might of what used to be the Good Men consortium. I’m a revolutionary, yes, m’amie, but I’m not stupid.”

I gave him a dubious look, but something I’d decided very early on was that Simon was not in fact stupid. Truth be told, he might be too smart for his own good. He was certainly very good at keeping Simon safe and sound and knowing the best means of doing so.

The pressure of his hand on my waist increased fractionally. I became aware of the orchestra striking the sort of melody that indicates the prelude to dance music, and he said, “Madame Zenobia Sienna, would you do me the very great honor of opening the ball with me?”

I cast one last dubious look at the transports on the bronze-gilded sea, bobbing slightly in the current. They’d been there for twenty four hours, and they’d done nothing. Simon had to be right. He had to. Those transports were air-and-surface. Had they been filled with troops enough to overwhelm the Seacity defenses, they’d have flown in and landed and taken over, long ago. They were for show. For intimidation. They weren’t real. I could, at least, trust Simon to see what was a threat to him and what wasn’t.

We danced.

As a guest of the Good Man – oh, pardon me, the Protector – I’d been taught to dance anything that might be played at the ball. This was a waltz, an ancient dance that had once been scandalous. We segued from it to the glide, a modern dance that was considered very difficult. Our bodies moved in unison as though we’d been trained to it. Which wasn’t true, but we’d been designed for it, you might say. Both being faster and learning better than normal people.

Other couples joined us. The dance floor filled with twirling people, as the sun sank completely into the sea. In the darkness that followed, the troop transports became mere black dots on the inky water.

We took a break for drinks and food, then returned to the dance floor. It was in the middle of this dance that the explosion came.

At first, I wasn’t sure it hadn’t been part of the music, then the concussion hit, making the floor shake, and the entire airy palace tremble and resonate, like a platter that’s been struck. From somewhere below came an orange reflection, a bloom of light, immediately extinguished.

Simon stopped completely, his hands on my waist, his brow wrinkling and said, “Merde!”

I cast a look at the sea, but it remained unlit and the darker points of the transports still bobbed on the water.

Another explosion, this one more deafening. Above us, a glistening crystal chandelier swayed. Bits of crystal rained down on couples who came to a lurching end of their dance. The orchestra struck another tune but it petered out as only half the members even started playing. People screamed.

A third explosion hit. The palace rocked and Simon wrapped an arm around me and leapt, carrying me with him to the edge of the ballroom, up against the wall. I could smell him. Sweat from our exertions on the dance floor had been joined by something sharper that spoke of fear.

He lay on top of me but not crushing me, his body forming a defensive cover over me.

“Simon,” I said, urgently, not sure how to ask, but trusting him to understand what I meant.

He pulled a burner from his pocket, and pointed it over my head at the ballroom’s main door. “It’s not the armies of the Good Men,” he said.

“No,” I said. I realized I wasn’t armed. Why wasn’t I armed? I’d relaxed my vigilance, here in this luxurious place where everything had seemed safe. Seemed. I should have known better. It was part of being better that I should know how to take care of myself and others. I’d failed. Not for the first time. My hands clenched on my dress.

A third explosion and from outside the ballroom, echoing like it had started somewhere beneath us, came a song. Loud, and inharmonious, it seemed full of threats I only half understood, because it was in the local patois, formed when the city itself had been formed: a mix of archaic French, archaic English, some Spanish words, and a lot of Glaish overlay. Something about setting fire to the world and enjoying the flames. Something about the blood of tyrants.

I felt Simon shake. I won’t say he trembled with fear. It was more like shock, or surprise. “Merde,” he said again. Then in a louder voice, “Alexis. Alexis! Alexis, for the love of God, get her out of here.”

Someone bulky and dark, a stranger, crawled up close to us in response to this call. He said, “But– Shouldn’t we—”

“Too late. Get her the hell out of here,” Simon said.

“But I don’t want to go,” I said. “Simon, give me a burner.”   I had never needed, would never need some person – much less two persons – who were wholly unrelated to me, to take control. I was the one who should take control and save other people.

Simon pushed me. “Go. I can’t fight while you’re in danger. Go.” I couldn’t oppose him. I had no weapon on me – stupid, but I’d thought a burner might prove awkward at a ball – and Alexis was a large man and was dragging me backwards, at a crouch, along the wall. I could have fought him, but not without hurting him. And I couldn’t risk hurting him. It wouldn’t be fair.

My strength and speed were good for nothing when I didn’t know where the threat was coming from or against whom to retaliate. And when you can’t risk hurting the hapless idiots trying to protect you. I ground my teeth. “Give me a burner,” I told Alexis.   He ignored me and pulled me, along the wall, at a fast trot.

The ballroom was crowded with fighting people. Burners shot this way and that. Alexis seemed to have the supernatural ability to be where no one was, cutting through the crowd, very fast, avoiding the turmoil, ducking before a burner ray flashed where we’d been. Someone bumped me. Friend or foe I didn’t know and regretted only not having the time to steal their burner.

I could no longer see Simon in the crowd. I smelled blood and fire. I stopped resisting Alexis pull. Impossible to fight when everything was so confused. I’d get out of here. I’d find a way to come back. I needed to come back, equipped to fight and help these helpless people. I needed to protect Simon, for one. He shouldn’t be facing this alone.

Another two explosions, below, getting closer. The nearest dimatough pane cracked, top to bottom. They weren’t supposed to crack. The crystal chandelier fell, bits of crystal flying in all directions.

Alexis said, “Run,” and grabbed my hand and took off. I tried to resist, but he ran into the melee, fast. In the confusion, he strong armed me. As people careened into me and shot at us, for me to stop and fight would be to risk getting him killed, and I was sure he was only trying to obey Simon and rescues me.

He dragged me through what seemed like a concealed door, down a couple of staircases, onto a dark terrace by the seaside.

If I had a burner– If I—

“Come on,” Alexis said, sounding desperate. He pulled at me. “Trust the Good—Trust the protector who says I should keep you safe.” As he spoke, explosions kept sounded, coming ever closer. I could hear the barbarous song from the ballroom, faint, like a haunting echo, but drawing near.

“I don’t want to be kept safe. I want to fight. We can’t leave Simon defenseless.”

“You can’t fight with no preparation or weapons. He pulled me down a dark path on the palace grounds and clattered down a set of staircases. His hand was too warm, rough, holding me as though it were the most important thing in the world that he take me along. “Let’s get out to where we can discuss it, shall we?”

We ran across an expanse of lawn and down a brick path and up to a terrace where a row of fliers were parked. Simon’s official fleet for his servants, I thought, since they all looked alike.

Alexis threw me into the passenger seat, got into the driver’s, closed the doors from the control panel. We took off almost vertically.

At once an explosion rocked us, then another.

Alexis said, “Merde.” It was a popular word. “We can’t fly away.” He brought the flier down, almost straight down, but into a narrow street away from the palace. I was impressed. It took training to fight like that. “We won’t be allowed to escape by air. At least… not this easily.”

“Escape? We can’t escape. We’re supposed to help those other people. Simon, and everyone,” I said, and then remembering the last, vivid image of the crowd of people who’d just come into the ballroom. “Those people who came in. The intruders. Were they carrying heads on poles?”

“Yes,” he said.

23 comments

  1. I have a question about shifters. More specifically during WWII. Given der Fuhrer’s fascination with the occult, could he have possibly found some, and formed a special Shifter unit….

    You know, the Bear-macht….

        1. Nah. We read it wrong. First drafts and works under revision are well known to be numerically challenged.

          It’s like writing on a whiteboard (which I do regularly) somehow words that you know perfectly well how to write can change their spelling. And the students love to point out those little glitches.

    1. What he said.
      I usually try to avoid reading these so I don’t go crazy. My reasons were good ones, and I will be strong in the future.

  2. So . . . the price of gold is about a girl who does a good deed and thereafter decides it’s okay to declare social war on her peers? Am I missing something here?

  3. ack. WP ate my reply. (well that and my getting the settings right on this new drive)
    I saw this in my email about a new post to ATH … Sounds like you had my last monday yesterday (though I hope you didn’t poke a hole in a tote and spill almost 700 pounds of Propylene Glycol on the ground)

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