Read In Fire Forged: Worlds of Honor V-ARC Online

Authors: David Weber

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In Fire Forged: Worlds of Honor V-ARC

BOOK: In Fire Forged: Worlds of Honor V-ARC
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In Fire Forged

Worlds of Honor V-ARC

Advance Reader Copy

David Weber

Baen Books by David Weber

Honor Harrington:

On Basilisk Station

The Honor of the Queen

The Short Victorious War

Field of Dishonor

Flag in Exile

Honor Among Enemies

In Enemy Hands

Echoes of Honor

Ashes of Victory

War of Honor

At All Costs

Mission of Honor

Honorverse:

Crown of Slaves
(with Eric Flint)

The Shadow of Saganami

Storm from the Shadows

edited by David Weber:

More than Honor

Worlds of Honor

Changer of Worlds

The Service of the Sword

In Fire Forged

Mutineers’ Moon

The Armageddon Inheritance

Heirs of Empire

Empire from the Ashes

In Fury Born

The Apocalypse Troll

The Excalibur Alternative

Bolos!

Old Soldiers

Oath of Swords

The War God’s Own

Wind Rider’s Oath

with Steve White:

Crusade

In Death Ground

The Stars At War

The Shiva Option

Insurrection

The Stars At War II

with Eric Flint:

1633

1634: The Baltic War

with John Ringo:

March Upcountry

March to the Sea

March to the Stars

We Few

with Linda Evans:

Hell’s Gate

Hell Hath No Fury

IN FIRE FORGED

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 © 2011 by Worlds of Weber

A Baen Books Original
 

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY
 
10471

www.baen.com

ISBN 13: 978-1-4391-3414-6

Cover art by David Mattingly

Interior schematics by Thomas Marrone, Thomas Pope and William H. Edwards

First printing, February 2011

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

 

Ruthless

Jane Lindskold

Gone. Her child was gone.

Frantically, Judith Newland searched the small apartment she shared with her two-year-old daughter, Ruth.

Bedroom. Bathroom. Living area.

When she started opening cabinet doors and bending double so that she could look all the way to the back, Judith admitted to herself what she had known all along.

Somehow, during the short time she had stepped out into the hall to talk to that new woman from Human Services, little Ruth had completely and utterly disappeared.

A momentary urge to scream, to panic, filled Judith’s heart. For all that her nineteen years had included kidnapping, rape, murder, piracy, and countless other horrific experiences, these last two years had been relatively peaceful. Almost without her noticing, Judith had allowed herself to be lulled into accepting peace—rather than all the rest—as normal.

Now the steel at the core of Judith’s soul, the quality that had permitted her not only to survive her long captivity on Masada, but to prosper and grow, met the urge to panic and pushed it back.

Judith closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

Ruth wasn’t in the apartment. Very well. Where might she be? The apartment had only one exit, but there was a safety escape outside the bedroom window. There had been a drill just a few days before. Ruth had been fascinated by how the grav tube had appeared at the touch of a button concealed in the programmable nanotech “wallpaper.”

Judith didn’t think Ruth could have reached the button and activated it, but then again, Judith was the last person to underestimate someone merely on the basis of age. If her former husband had not underestimated Judith…

But, no. She wasn’t going to think about that. That, at least, was done.

Already Judith’s feet were hurrying her down the hall to the bedroom. A quick glance was all she needed to see that the grav tube remained undeployed. Ruth hadn’t left that way.

Panic was trying to rise again, but Judith ignored it. Grabbing her apartment keys, she hurried out to check if any of her neighbors had seen anything.

The residential tower where Judith and Ruth lived was unique even among Manticore’s eclectic society, for it housed most of the four hundred or so refugees who had fled in a body from the planet Masada something over two and a half years before. This alone would have made the complex peculiar, but since those refugees had been nearly all female—the males had been small children, usually under five years of age—the dynamic was skewed again. Add to this that most of the women had been accustomed to life in communal harems. They continued to find privacy, rather than the lack thereof, unsettling. Therefore, the three floors of the tower they occupied more resembled a beehive than a modern residential community.

Judith herself was one of the few who treasured privacy and hadn’t chosen to reside in a larger apartment with two or more adults and any associated children. But then Judith was different from her fellow Sisters of Barbara in many ways, including her birthplace, level of education, and complete lack of the faith that—although modified—continued to be a dominant influence in the spiritual lives of her associates.

However, Judith still felt closer to her fellow refugees than she did to almost any Manticoran. She was especially attached to the woman to whom she now fled with her problem.

“Dinah!” Judith said, rushing in past Dinah and closing the door behind her. “Ruth is gone from our apartment, vanished completely.”

The tale poured from Judith’s lips, how the doorbell had rung, how the new woman from Human Services had asked if she could speak to Judith. How Ruth had been napping, so they had stepped out into the hallway.

Dinah listened without interrupting, her gray eyes hardening to steel as the import of what Judith was telling her went home. Too old to be given the Manticoran’s anti-aging prolong therapies, nonetheless, Dinah had benefitted from the Manticoran’s advanced medical science. The heart condition that had nearly killed her during the escape from Masada had been completely reversed. Without a weak heart subtly undermining her strength, Dinah now appeared a decade or more younger—a gray-haired, gray-eyed, round-figured dove rather than the haggard old woman her thirty-eight years of marriage to Ephraim Templeton had created.

“I wasn’t gone more than five minutes,” Judith concluded. “When I went back in, something seemed a little off. I went to see if Ruth had climbed out of her crib—she’s getting better and better at that—and she wasn’t there.”

“You checked everywhere.” Dinah’s words were a comment, not a question. She knew Judith better than most, and knew she was thorough, often to the point of obsession. It was a trait that had served them both well in the past.

“I did.”

“But you wouldn’t be offended if I checked again?”

“No.”

“Good. I’ll do that. You go and speak with our neighbors. Ask if they saw Ruth. Ask about that woman from Human Services, too.”

Judith was thrusting her keys into Dinah’s hands when the oddity of that last statement caught her.

“Her? Why?”

“From what you told me about the questions she was asking you, I find it peculiar that she didn’t come and speak with me. I have been home for the last several hours, preparing texts for tomorrow’s service.”

Judith frowned. That omission was odd. Although Judith’s skills had made the escape from Masada possible, there was no doubt who was the leader of their community—and who had been the head of the Sisterhood of Barbara before they had ever left Masada. The new woman should at least have introduced herself to Dinah.

“I’ll ask,” Judith promised. She hadn’t thought she could be any more afraid, but Dinah’s words had crystalized a fear that had been budding in her heart.

She didn’t wait for the lift, but ran for the stairs.

*
   
*
   
*

“Oh, Michael!”

The speaker’s voice was feminine, high pitched yet musical. It held a distinctly lilting note of welcome and invitation. Even so, rather than slowing at the sound, Michael Winton, lieutenant, senior grade, serving in Her Majesty’s ship
Diadem,
picked up his pace.

Michael tried to act as if the call might be meant for another Michael, not him, but although the name and its variants were very common in the Star Kingdom, his appearance was not. Michael’s skin was the dark brown of the Wintons, rather than one of the more ethnically blended mixes more common in the realm. Although Michael had been away from home over the last two years, there was no reason for him to believe his slight increase in height, and slightly more mature muscular development was adequate disguise. For one thing, he looked far too much like his father—and the late Roger Winton’s portrait still hung in many a public place, never mind that the king had been dead for over nine T-years.

Michael’s companion, a young man with dark blond hair and laughing, light brown eyes, hissed under his breath.

“Michael, what’s your problem? She’s waving at you! Since when did you start running away from pretty girls?”

Square-jawed and handsome, Todd Liatt, one of Michael’s closest friends, was always trying to get his more retiring friend to join him in his leave-time pursuit of the fair.

Michael glanced side to side, looking for a route of escape, but although he knew both the public and private areas of Mount Royal Palace as well as he knew his own cubby aboard the
Diadem,
he knew he was couldn’t get away without being obviously rude—and pure rudeness was a tactic denied to him.

He slowed his pace and swallowed a sigh. Then he schooled his dark, boyishly handsome features into a polite smile as he turned to face the young lady who was hurrying down the wide corridor toward him.

She had skin the color of coffee with lots of cream. The freckles Michael remembered from when they had been children had faded, but she still wore her dark honey-colored hair loose, the thick, tightly curled mass falling past her shoulders to the middle of her back. She’d been cute as a child, but now Michael had to admit Todd was right, she was decidedly pretty, maybe even almost beautiful.

“Alice! What a surprise to find you here.”

“Daddy’s attending a meeting of some committee or other,” Alice said, clasping the hand Michael politely offered to her between two of her own. Her amber-flecked golden eyes danced with mischief. “His secretary is on holiday, and I’m filling in. What luck he told me he didn’t need me just when you were going by!”

Alice released Michael’s hand and stepped back a pace, looking up at Michael admiringly. “I thought it was you, but I wasn’t sure. You’re so much taller, and that uniform is so dignified.”

Given that they hadn’t seen much of each other since Michael had switched his study program at the age of thirteen T-years, when he began seriously preparing to attend the Naval Academy, Michael thought Alice’s comment about his height idiotic. However, his training in not saying what he thought pre-dated his Academy education by many years.

“I would have known you,” he said. “You still wear your hair the same way.”

Alice laughed delightedly. “And you used to love to pull it. I remember you saying you liked how the curls bounced like springs.”

She shook her head just a little, as if inviting Michael to take a tug, but he felt no such temptation. A slight motion at his side reminded Michael that his social duties were not concluded.

“Alice, let me present my friend, Todd Liatt. Todd was my roommate at the Academy, and now we’re bunking together in
Diadem
. Lieutenant Liatt, this is Alice Ramsbottom. As you must have gathered, we went to school together.”

Alice offered Todd a slim hand and a polite smile. Todd was generally thought the more attractive of the two men, but Alice’s attention didn’t stray from Michael. She gave a light laugh.

“Ah, good old school days,” she said in a deliberately affected manner. “You were Mikey, then, but someone told me that you go by ‘Michael’ now.”

Alice paused, and Michael observed with slow horror that she was actually simpering at him.

“Of course,” Alice went on, “I realize I should have addressed you as Crown Prince Michael or Your Highness, but I was so thrilled when I saw you, I didn’t think. I hope you don’t mind…”

She fluttered long lashes at him, and Michael felt relieved—not for the first time—that his dark skin prevented anyone from seeing him blush.

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