Through Fire – Snippet 01
Sarah A. Hoyt
When Worlds Collide
A spaceship mechanic has no place in a fairytale, not even when she’s dressed in a flowing gown and being courted by one of Earth’s most powerful men.
I was designed to be able to repair spaceships and to navigate them home safely. I had calluses on my hands from working with heavy tools on delicate machinery. I was strong enough to kill a grown man with a casual blow. And I had a burner strapped to my ankle under my ball-gown.
The man courting me was a scoundrel, a dictator, and likely a murderer. And we were dancing at a spun-sugar palace, atop a fairytale seacity. It was his ballroom, his palace and his seacity. He was my only protector on Earth and my host for the last six months. He wanted me. He had been gentle and caring and solicitous of me. I wanted to escape the happy-ever-after fairytale ending.
You should be careful what you wish for.
It was a relief when the palace exploded.
We’d been dancing, Simon and I and more than a hundred other couples, twirling on the black polished dimatough floor of his ballroom while the light of massive chandeliers shone from softly glistening white walls.
It used to be the palace of the Good Man of Liberte seacity. Simon was a Good Man, one of fifty hereditary rulers who, between them, split the vastness and wealth of the Earth. Or at least he had been.
The people gathered in the ballroom sported outfits that seemed to be spun of butterfly wings, and that defied the shape of the human body. Other clothing 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 had got caught in its depths. Simon had picked it for me and had it carried in by proud couturiers that very morning, its fine, slippery folds wrapped in silk and beribboned, like a fantastic gift.
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 created as a refuge from high taxes and excessive government regulation and oversight. Unlike other seacities, it had never been designed to host any industry, any useful output. Instead, it owned other seacities — Shangri-la, Xanadu and, later, after the Fish War, 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, and idyllic beaches climbing through terraces with carefully landscaped gardens, 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, by ceilings that formed the ground of the next level.
Approaching Liberte from the air, as I’d first done, one saw it only as a sort of white and green confection, something like an idealized wedding cake.
The palace of the Good Man topped 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 of it all, 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.
As we twirled to a tune called “Liberte” and composed for this ball, I faltered. I looked through the window at the troop transports moored in that smooth sea. I’d known they were there: a vast, dark menace that encircled us, the much larger forces massed against Simon and the other rebels against the regime of the Good Men that had held the Earth for three hundred years. Simon and the other rebels were, at least in theory, trying to free their particular portions of the world. Even if I had my doubts about Simon’s sincerity.
“Why are you looking out the window?” asked Simon St. Cyr, ci-devant Good Man of Liberte seacity, who, by a stroke of the pen, had made himself “Protector of the People and Head of the Glorious Revolution.”
He was slightly shorter than I, had brown hair, brown eyes and looked unremarkable. Which I’d come to believe was protective coloration to stop people wondering what he might be plotting. He had been created as the clone of a man once designed as a superspy, and for the last ten years he’d lived a life where his only safety came from acting foolish and shallow. Sometimes I wondered if he knew where the act started. And where it stopped.
His hand rested on my waist, long fingers transmitting an impression of controlled strength through the pliable fabric.
“I’m looking at those troop carriers,” I said, concentrating on the music and the movement of my feet. It didn’t take that much effort, because I too had been created, not born in the normal way, and I’d been designed for speed and agility and grace.
Simon looked over my shoulder at the transports, and made a face, half dismissal and half amusement. “Oh, that,” he said and shrugged a little, contriving to give the impression that the glistening transports, each of them able to carry more than a thousand armed men, were a negligible detail like a speck of dust on the floor of his polished ballroom. “Don’t worry, ma petite.”
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” pushed it, since I was at least two inches taller than him. Impatience colored my tone, as I said, “But shouldn’t you be worried? These people depend on you for their safety.” And this was true. As far as there was an authority in the seacity, it was Simon, whose predecessors had commanded it from time immemorial, and who had the loyalty of all troops and functionaries. At least in theory. Whether he called himself Good Man or Protector, he reigned here.
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?”