Authors: Joel Shepherd
ALSO BY JOEL SHEPHERD
Cassandra Kresnov novels
23 Years on Fire
A Trial of Blood and Steel novels
A CASSANDRA KRESNOV NOVEL
Published 2015 by PyrÂ®, an imprint of Prometheus Books
. Copyright Â© 2015 by Joel Shepherd. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, ex cept in the case of brief quotations em bodied in critical articles and reviews.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and is not intended by the author.
Cover image Â© Stephan Martiniere
Cover design Jackie Nasso Cooke
Inquiries should be addressed to
59 John Glenn Drive
Amherst, New York 14228
19 18 17 16 15Â Â Â 5 4 3 2 1
The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Shepherd, Joel, 1974-
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Originator : a Cassandra Kresnov novel / Joel Shepherd.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â pages ; cm
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â ISBN 978-1-61614-992-5 (pbk.) -- ISBN 978-1-61614-993-2 (ebook)
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1. Life on other planets--Fiction. 2. AndroidsâFiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
The play was something inspired by the Ramayana, Sandy thought. She sat with Danya and Svetlana in the pretty garden auditorium on this early Thursday evening, amidst about two hundred other parents and family of Canas School, and watched as eagerly as any parent for the next bit with Kiril in it. And here he came, a chariot driver in a golden tunic, with a toy trident wrapped in foil, running out with other chariot drivers as the older students' drum section beat a rapid rhythm. There were even some lights and sound effects, thunder and flashing lightning, as the kids ran around on stage and yelled like an army going to war.
And here came the boy playing Hanuman, jumping around with his monkey tail and staff, whooping and dancing. He was really very good, Sandy thought.
“Kiril should have played Hanuman,” Svetlana opined. She was leaning on Sandy's shoulder, mostly so she could talk through the show. Today that was fun, but Svetlana was terrible to watch movies with. Danya liked to tell her that if the director had wanted her commentary, he'd have put it on the soundtrack.
“I think this boy's very good,” Sandy said diplomatically. And really, Kiril wasn't quite demonstrative enough to be a monkey god.
“Why are all the warriors boys?” Svetlana wondered. They weren't bothering anyone talking; the kids and drums and sound effects made a racket, and half the audience were laughing or clapping anyhow.
“Because three thousand years ago they probably all were,” said Sandy. Here went Hanuman, leading his army off to battle. Kiril tried to look ferocious with his paper trishul, but the toy horse dangling on the little chariot arm kind of spoiled the effect.
“It's supposed to be a modern interpretation,” Svetlana objected. At which, a line of little girls ran onto the stage, all in pretty dancing costumesâthe wives seeing their husbands off to battle.
“Well, this is grim,” Danya remarked on Sandy's other side, as the audience all laughed and cheered to see their respective little girls dancing.
“It is a bit warlike,” Sandy admitted. Surprising, given recent events. She knew Danya's opinion of the school's hopeless political correctness. “But hard to do anything on the Ramayana without wars.”
“Why are all the dancers girls?” Svetlana continued her theme.
“Because it's Tanusha, Svet,” Danya replied. “And good girls know their place.” Svetlana grinned, always enjoying Danya's cynicism. Sandy liked that Danya was now almost leaning on her shoulder too. He still never cuddled, but he would do this casual, relaxed and happy thing that a tough teenage boy might do, and lean or place an arm carelessly. Sandy had learned she could get away with a semi-cuddle if she disguised it well enough. Most mothers couldn't get away with that, but she wasn't most mothers.
The kids had been on Callay fifteen months now. Danya was fourteen, Svetlana eleven, Kiril seven. A year older, taller and healthier. A year more well-adjusted, thank god. This was home now, and home for good. For Kiril in particular, Droze was just memories. For Svetlana and Danya, far more than that, but the rawness of that life had faded. They were Tanushan kids but tougher and wiser than most of their schoolmates by whole orders of magnitude. And still, for all the improvements, more troubled. That was a part of them too, forever. But in that respect, Sandy made four.
A lead dancing role was filled by a very cute little girl in her sparkling sari, who danced and danced in circles while the other boys and girls clapped a rhythm.
“She's very good for a Chinese girl, isn't she?” an Indian lady remarked loudly nearby.
Danya nodded sagely at his sister. “Yes, there's no sexism or racism in Tanusha,” he said, as though imitating something his teachers had told him. “Very important to remember that.”
“Hush, Danya,” said Sandy, as the Indian woman overheard and turned to
at him. Danya looked back, with unapologetic calm. The woman saw
who it was and looked quickly away. “I get into enough trouble from Svet and Kiri without you doing it too.”
“Well, thanks,” said Svetlana, and whacked her arm. “Hey look, demons!”
The chariot army confronted some kids wearing fearsome red masks and horns. More dancing, to a change of rhythm.
“The choreography's good,” Svetlana offered.
An uplink blinked on Sandy's inner visionâFSA HQ. She was technically supposed to be working, but her hours right now were more flexible, and she'd been planning to eat with the kids after Kiril's show, then go back to work after she'd seen Kiril to bed. The audio pause that followed suggested a group announcement, something live. Svetlana asked her something else, and Sandy tapped behind her ear, indicating she was uplinked. Svetlana knew she'd only do that during Kiril's play if it was important.
,” came Assistant Director Hando's voice, a little distracted, as everyone registered on the net. “
We're receiving something from an inbound freighter, could be important. It's going to take a while to make sense of it, nothing's chronological. I'll need everyone to stay on this channel for updates
“What is it?” Danya asked when Sandy returned full attention to the play.
Sandy shrugged. “Don't know yet, we're on hold.”
Rather than show actual violence, the kids drew big scarlet drapes before the action and waved them wildly while drums hammered, and there was a lot of yelling and crashing thunder.
“That's actually pretty cool,” said Svetlana.
Then the drapes fell, and only the chariot kids were visible, led by Hanuman. No demons, and certainly no little demon bodies. Two years ago Sandy wouldn't have really understood that sensitivityâit was just a fun kiddies' play, after all. But now she got it completely. The chariot warriors saw they held the field and yelled in triumph, waving trishuls and bows in the air. The audience cheered with them, and the dancing girls reappeared for the celebration.
Still there everyone?
” Hando resumed as the play reached its triumphant conclusion. “
Okay, what we're getting appears to be a series of log records from Cresta administration. That's a moon in the League's Hope System. No idea why it's coming in the freighter's mail, but it's been tagged priority, so we're taking precautions
Cresta. Sandy recalled a station, boring like all stations in the war, dull
steel and nothing to do. The inhabited places below they'd not been allowed to visit, League combat GIs not being allowed to mix with the general population.
Now we're getting a feed here of some traffic approach data . . . looks like a big anomaly . . . just another day on a League mining colony, looks like quite a few military transports, have to get Boyle to look at that
. . . .” Pause. Then a gasp of horror. Sandy couldn't recall ever having heard Hando make a noise like it. “
Oh no. Oh my fucking god. Jesus Christ . . . Marchi! Marchi, this is going out planet wide, the media will have this any minute. Everyone, we are on full alert, condition red!
Then something inaudible, multiple questions coming in. Sandy sat where she was amidst sustained applause, people on their feet for the kids, who were smiling and waving. Danya and Svetlana were on their feet too, shouting to Kiril.
What . . . ? Hang on . . . ? Director? Director Ibrahim, are you online? Director, someone just killed Cresta. Yes, all of it. It's just gone, it looks like a V-strike. Oh, I'm not sure sir . . . I think about two hundred, maybe two fifty thousand people. Big orbital facilities too, tens of thousands more, I don't think they'd have survived either
. . . .”
This is Ibrahim
,” came the Director's voice for the first time, cutting in on a new audio channel. “
Everybody in, right now
Sandy watched ten things at once on the way into Headquarters. Tacnet was arranged in a two-tier setup, the first level tracking her own spec-ops forces, the other showing broader units across Tanusha, alert levels, general deployments. No one really knew what would happen next; it was unprecedented.
On top of that, her own monitor programs were watching net traffic, thousands of conversations and data streams babbling at once. Mostly she watched for spikes, anything alarming from the usual sources. The media were of course going crazy, demanding to know more, they hadn't deciphered all the incoming encryption yet, but they had access to private assets who were as good as anything the FSA had, so it wouldn't take them long. They knew Cresta was gone but didn't know how.
,” came Delphia on uplink, “
can you tell me any more about Cresta?
“Just what's on file,” Sandy replied, steering the cruiser along a skylane between brightening towers as night fell. An approaching storm lit the horizon
with blue flashes. “I was there a few times, only ever on the main station, it had maybe a twenty-thousand-capacity, C-class station, nothing special.”
” Delphia asked hopefully. She worked in League Affairs, under Boyle.
“I was a very dumb grunt back then, and I wasn't allowed to mingle anyway. Couldn't tell you more beyond what you've got.”
Well, that's the problem, we've got nothing on Cresta, Sandy. It's a mining base, the whole Hope System is industrial, and half the population's only been there since the war, no indigenous identity or political stuff to speak of. Why would anyone want to kill it?