The worst has happened: Fleet is tearing itself apart. Some of the mutineers see injustice in the unequal spread of the rejuvenation drugs taht offer virtual immortality to the rich; others are simply thirsty for power, or for blood. The Loyalists, meanwhile, fight desperately to preserve the rule of law in Familias Regnant space.
But when Esmay Suiza-Serrano is unceremoniously booted out of Fleet, the apparent victim of Family politics, she has no idea of the whirlwind of conflict into which she is about to be drawn. As the noose tightens on the galactic civilization, great battles will be fought and greater loves affirmed...and old friends will meet their destinies.
About the Author:
Elizabeth Moon has degrees in history and biology, served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, was elected to public office, and spent six years as a paramedic on a rural Texas ambulance service. Her much acclaimed novels include The Deed of Paksenarrion; an epic fantasy, the Heris Serrano series; and two nationally bestselling collaborations with Anne McCaffrey, Sassinak and Generation Warriors. Her recent novel Remnant Population was acclaimed by Anne McCaffrey ("...marvelously empathic insights...pure satisfaction...") and Ursula K. LeGuin ("...a book full of pleasures.") and was a Hugo Award finalist. Her last novel was Change of Command, to which Against the Odds is a sequel. Moon lives outside Austin, Texas with her husband and their son.
Read an Excerpt
Fleet Weapons Research Facility
A cold wind swept the barren top of Stack Two; Ensign Margiu Pardalt's eyes ached from squinting into it. Broad daylight now; the wind had long since swept away the bitter stench of the seaplane fires. Where were the mutineers? Surely they would land, to snatch the weapons they knew had been designed here. Had the message she'd tried to send using the old technology actually reached anyone, or would the mutineers get away with their whole plan? And when would they come ... when would they come to kill her?
"This is stupid," Professor Gustaf Aidersson said. Bundled in his yellow leather jacket over his Personal Protective Unit, with a peculiar gray furry hat on his head, he looked more like a tubby vagrant than a brilliant scientist. "When I was a boy, I used to imagine things like this, being marooned on an island and having to figure out a way to get home. I had thousands of plans, each one crazier than the one before. Make a boat out of my grandmother's porch swing, make an airplane out of the solar collector, take the juicer and a skein of yarn, two cups, and a knitting needle and make a communications device."
Margiu wondered whether to say anything; she couldn't feel her ears anymore.
"So here we are, on the perfect island, full of challenges. I should be improvising rappelling gear to go down the cliffs, and something to construct a sailboat ... I actually have built a boat, you know, but it was with wood from a lumberyard. And I sailed it, and it didn'tsink. Of course, it wouldn't hold all of us."
"Sir," Margiu said, "don't you think we should go back inside?"
"Probably." He didn't move. "And there is not one thing on this blasted island to make a boat or an airplane out of." He gave a last look at the blackened stain that had been their transport. Then he looked at Margiu and his mouth quirked in a mischievous grin. "There's only one thing to do, when the bad guys have all the transport ..."
"Make them give it to us," he said, and headed inside so abruptly that Margiu was left behind. She caught up with him as he went in the door.
"It's a desperate chance ... but by God it'll be fun if it works," he said. He looked around the room at the scientists and military personnel who were also stranded. "ListenI have an idea!"
"You always have an idea, Gussie," one of the scientists said. Margiu still hadn't sorted them all out by name. They all looked tired and grumpy. "You probably want us to make an airplane out of bedsprings or something ..."
"No. I thought of that, but we don't have enough bedsprings. I want the mutineers to bring us an airplane and give it to us."
The professor launched into an enthusiastic explanation. In the few seconds from outside to inside, his idea had already developed elaborate additions. The others looked blank.
Major Garson was the first to nod. "Yeahthe only way to get transport is to get them to give it to us. But it's not going to be easy. They've got a lot more troops topside than we have ... they can scorch us with the shuttle weaponry, for that matter."
"So our first job is to convince them we're not that dangerous," the professor said. He had taken off his hat and shoved it into a pocket; his thinning gray fringe stuck up in untidy peaks.
"Do they even know how many of us there were?" asked Margiu. "They don't know the planes were full, do they? Vinet didn't get any messages up to them"
"No ... that's right. And except during the firelight last night, we've been mostly undercover. But they'd be stupid to come in carelessly," Major Garson said. "Never count on the enemy to be careless."
"But" The professor held up his hand a moment, then nodded. "But suppose, using Margiu's radio apparatus, we give them what looks like accidental clues. We try to contact them, pretending to be mutineers fighting with scientists"
"No, wait!" That was the skinny man with wild black hair. Ty, Margiu remembered. "Look, they know the loyalists have the radio now. Suppose we send a message, like we hope it'll bounce around to mainland, begging for help. And then break off. And then an hour or so later, there's a message to them from some of the military pretending to be mutineers, and then"
"How would the mutineers know how to use that equipment?" Garson said. "It's nothing Fleet-trained people would know unless they happened on it somewhere else, like Ensign Pardalt. And besides, it's too fragile. It could get shot up in a firefight."
"Suppose we say the radio's the loyalists'," Margiu said. The others looked at her. "And we're begging for help from the mainland, like he said." She nodded at Ty. "But of course it doesn't come. We sound more and more desperatewe talk about being hunted by the mutineers, about the people killed in the explosions of the planes, and then the food shortagesthe mutineers have all the supplies ..."
"Yes! That's good," the professor said. "And we'll move the thing around, so when they trace the signal they'll know someone's trying to stay in hidingand then we'll take it underground ..."
"We'll need a visible force of baddies," the major said. "A squad'll do for that. Local uniforms ... and PPUs can look like anything, with the right setting. We've got the suitcoms for localhave to have our people stay in character."
"So ... what are we going to do if we get the shuttle? They can always shoot us down before we get anywhere."
"Not that easy if they come down with one of the combat troop shuttles, sir," said one of the neuro-enhanced Marines. "They're hardened and highly maneuverable."
"Which brings upwho's going to fly it?"
"I'm shuttle-qualified," said one of the pilots. "Ken's not, but Bernie is."
"If you're qualified to fly troop shuttles, why are you on seaplanes down here?"
"Fleet has a lot more shuttle pilots than seaplane pilots," the pilot said, spreading his hands. "Only a few of us mess around with the old-fashioned stuff."
"Bob ... what about Zed?"
"On a shuttle, LAC size? No problem, Gussie. It'll fit, and we can use it. Like I said, it'd hide something the size of this island, let alone a shuttle."
The professor glanced again at Garson. "Then, Major, if you'll divide us into loyalists and mutineersgiving me the tech-trained peopleand set up a scenario for us to act"
"We'll have to do something about those bodies...." Garson said, and gestured to some of the men.
Margiu had never had close contact with scientists before this, and if she'd thought about them at all, she'd had a storycube image of vast intelligence applied step-by-step to some arcane problem. They would be solitary, so they could concentrate; they would be serious, sober, abstracted.
They would not, for instance, waste any moment of their precious preparation time playing some incomprehensible game that involved a singsong chant, puns, and childish insults, dissolving into laughter every few seconds.
"Your starfish eats dirt," the professor finished.
"Oh, that's old, Gussie." But the others were grinning, relaxed.
"So nowwe're going to get them to bring us a ship, and then let us fly away?"
"We'll have Zed onthey won't see us."
"They'll see the moving hole where we were," Swearingen said. "It's a lot harder to hide things in planetary atmospheres.
"Not with Zed," Helmut Swearingen said. "We've solved that problem, or most of it. The thing is, all they have to do is hit a line across our courseand since we have to fly to the mainland"
"Why?" the professor asked; he had found a cache of candy and spoke around a lump of chocolate. "It's the obvious thing, of course, but being obvious won't help us now. At the very least we can zig and zag ..."
"Not forever ... we have to come down somewhere."
"Maybe," the professor said. "And maybe not. Suppose they think we've blown up or something. We could toss fireworks out the back"
"Oh come on, Gussie! The fake explosion while the real vessel gets away is the oldest trick in the book." Swearinger looked disgusted.
"Because it works," the professor said. "All it has to do is distract them long enough for us to make a course change. Two points define a straight line: they have takeoff and the explosion. If we aren't at an extension of that line, they'll have no idea where we are."
"It's ridiculous! It's all straight out of storytime. I have to agree with Helmut"
"There's a reason for stories being the way they are," the professor said.
"Yes, they're for the stupid or the ignorant, to keep them out of our way while we do the work ..." Swearingen said.
"Can you even name one time in real lifenot your pseudo-historywhen someone faked an explosion and escaped in a vessel the enemy thought was blown up?"
The professor blinked rapidly, as if at a long sequence of pages. "There are plenty of ruses in military history"
"Not just ruses, Gussie, but that hoary old cliche of faking the explosion of an engine, or a ship, or something ..."
"Commander Heris Serrano," Margiu said, surprising herself. "When she was just a lieutenant. She trailed a weapons pod past a fixed defense point, and when it blew it blinded the sensors long enough for her to get her ship past. Or Brun Thornbuckle, during her rescue, sent the shuttle as a decoy after landing on the orbital station."
"You see?" the professor said, throwing out his hands. "A hoary old cliche still works."
"It works better if you keep them busy thinking about other things," Margiu said.
"Like what?" one of the others asked her.
"Anything. Because you're also right, if they see the shuttle taking off and then it disappears, and then something blows up, they're going to be suspicious."
"So we don't have it disappear until just at the explosion."
"We have Zed, but the controls aren't that good. Not yet."
Silence for a long moment. Then one of the pilots said, "Lookthe shuttle will have a working com, right? The bad guys will want to be in touch with the shuttle crew."
"So we continue our little charade on the shuttle. Suppose ... suppose we talk about the weapons we've recovered. We're trying to see how they work"
"They're not going to believe their people would do something that stupid."
"But" Everyone turned to look at Margiu. She could feel the ideas bubbling up in her mind like turbulence in boiling water. "Suppose the bad guysours, I meansaid they also had the scientistsand they were questioning themand they found out one of the things was a stealth device. And they wanted to try it, to see if it really worked"
"That would explain the disappearance. Good, Margiu!"
"I still think they'd be suspicious."
"Spoilsport." The professor sighed, and rubbed his balding head. "But you're probably right. Let's see. Our pseudo-bad guys question the scientists ..." He pitched his voice into falsetto. "Please don't hurt meI vill tell you effryting."
"Good lord, Gussie, what archaic accent is that?"
"I don't knowI heard it on a soundtrack years ago. Don't interrupt ... so the scientists act like terrified victims and maybe that can be overheard. And then they turn Zed on, and it works"
"And it's still as transparent as glass," Bob said.
"So I'll scratch it upYES!" The professor leaped up and danced in a circle. "Yes, yes, yes! Brilliant. Scratchy, like old recordings, old-time radiobreak-up"
"What?! Damn it, Gussie, this is serious"
"I am serious. I am just momentarily transported by my own brilliance. And yours, and Margiu's here." He calmed down, took a breath, and went on. "Like this: the normal takeoff, the threats of the bad guys, the terror of the scientists. But then, when theyweturn Zed on, it doesn't keep working. It sort of" he waggled his hand. "Sort of flickers. They hear an argumentmore threats, more piteous pleadings, curses at some fool whoI don't know, kicks the power cable or something. The shuttle is there, then it isn't, then it isbut always on the same course. A voice shouting in the background: be careful, be careful, don't overload it, it wasn't designed for! And then the explosion, and then the course change."
A long silence this time, as they all digested what the professor had said. He mopped his face, his head, and pushed the crumpled, stained handkerchief into his pocket.
"It does explain everything," Swearingen said. "It gives them more to think about, more complications."
"It seems to give them more data," said Bob. "But all the data are false. It might work."
"So what we need is something to make a big bang, that will look like a shuttle blowing up on the bad guys' scan from upstairs ... which we can get far enough away from before it blows that we don't also blow ..."
The group dissolved as the scientists wandered off. Margiu, used to direct orders and a clear set of directions, felt let down as she followed the professor down one passage after another. Were they ever going to go to work? And what would Major Garson think, with her just wandering around idly watching someone who seemed to have very little idea what he was doing.
But that, she soon found out, was a mistake. After a rapid tour of the ground-floor levels of the site, the professor found Major Garson and began suggesting where to put what. Garson, meanwhile, was working on his own pretense. He had divided his troops and assigned the NEMs to play mutineer.
"If they think the NEMs are mutineers," he said, "they'll believe that the loyalists are in serious trouble. Also, the NEMs are so big and bulky that it's hard to get facial detail when they're in their p-suits with the head-jacks. That means I can move them around and have them play more parts."
Margiu glanced at the NEMs sitting around, half of them sticking odd-shaped patches to their p-suits. One of them grinned at her. "The bad guys are old Lepescu cronies," he said. "They take ears from their kills. Sowe thought we'd use an ear shape openly, as a recognition patch. No one else would." He slid the tube of adhesive back in one of the pockets.
"Come along, Ensign," said the professor; Margiu followed him, glancing back at the NEMs who were clustered there. She hoped they were all loyalists.
Twelve hours later the whole situation felt even more unreal. Periodically, Margiu and the professor joined Garson and one of the troops and scuttled rapidly from one building to another, following a plan of Garson's that had the loyalists trying to evade the "mutineers." The NEMs pretending to be mutineers, meanwhile, shot entirely too close for Margiu's comfort, and shattered all the ground-floor windows. Far underground, with doors shut against the wicked drafts from above, the scientists and remaining troops had organized the collection of boxes, cylinders, cables, and things that looked like leftovers from a junk heap onto pallets.
On one of their tours through the working areas, the professor shook his head over the tarps used to cover the loads before lashing them down. "It's too bad they destroyed those seaplanes," he said. "Lookthese would have made wonderful sails, and we could have built a ship with the frames of the planes."
"No, we could not," Swearingen said. "I can just see us now, Gussie, setting sail in something you whipped together with stickypatch and hairs pulled from your beard. Which aren't long enough to make ropes, in case you hadn't noticed."
"Rope ..." the professor said, his eyes going hazy in what Margiu now knew meant a moment of thought. "We're going to need one really good cable to make this work ..."
"There was cable in the planes," one of the pilots said. "But now"
"Spares," said the other. "They had to stock spares somewhere around here" He looked around the room they were in, bare to the walls except for the pallets.
"I know," offered one of the scientists. "What's the cable for, Gussie?"
"Towing the explosive," Gussie said. "We don't want to just drop it ... then we'd have to delay its explosion, and it'd be below our last visible position. We want to tow it ..."
"Out the back of a troop shuttle," said the first pilot, blinking. "I'm beginning to wish I weren't shuttle-qualified."
"It's doable," said the other. "I did a practice equipment drop once, and they shove the stuff out the back with a static linethere's a kind of yank, and then it's gone ..."
"Fine; you can fly that part of it," said the first.
"What bothers me," said another scientist, "is the scan analysis of the explosion. If they've got somebody good up thereand we have to assume they dothen they're going to expect shuttle components in the explosion. You've proposed that we use some of the weaponry in development, and it certainly will make a big enough bang. But it won't have any shuttle-specific ID. Once they realize that, they'll know we're still around."
"What kind of stuff would it take?" Garson asked. "Can we just throw out the life rafts or something?"
"No, it's the explosion itself. They'll expect some differences, because they'll know the shuttle has exotic new stuff on it, but the shuttle itself, when it explodes, would contribute recognizable chemical signatures. The shuttle weaponry, for instance, would be assumed to go up with it."
"Why not just add the shuttle's weapons pods to the tow load?" asked Margiu. Everyone stopped and looked at her.
"Of course!" The professor, unsurprisingly, was the first to recover speech. He beamed at her. "Didn't I say redheads were naturally brilliant?"
"But that would leave us with no weapons ..." Garson said.
"But we weren't going to fight our way out with the shuttle anyway," said the professor. "We're just using it as transport. We know we can't take on a deepspace ship."
Garson chewed this over a long moment. Finally he nodded. "All right. It makes sense, I just ... don't like not having them. But as you said, they'll do us more good proving we're not there, when we are. I'll add that to our list of priorities once we get aboard. Be sure we have extra tiedowns and pallets, though."
The troop shuttle made a careful circle around the island; its onboard scans could pick out details from a distance that made light weapons ineffective. The NEMS clustered on the runway with the little huddle of scientists obviously under guard and the tarp-wrapped bundles of the cargo beside them. The shuttle made another approach, this time dropping out a communications-array bundle. The NEM commander grabbed it and flicked it on. Margiu could hear what he said, but not what the shuttle crew answered.
"Nowe were mainland basedat Big Treewaiting, but we got grabbed for this missionyeahno. No, he died in the first firefight. Got his body, if you want it. I've got his ears...."
The shuttle swung back, slower yet, and settled onto the runway. Margiu had not realized how loud shuffles were, if no one bothered to baffle the exhaust. She could hear nothing but its own whining roar. The great hatch in the rear swung down, forming a ramp. Five men came out, weapons ready. Surely there weren't just five ... no, there came another five, setting up a perimeter.
The NEMs waved; the newcomers waved back as they came forward. Margiu could sense the moment in which they decided it was all right, when their attention shifted from the "mutineers" to the scientists and their equipment. Margiu flicked through the channels on her p-suit headset, and found the active one.
"Got 'em all, did you?"
"Except the dead ones," one of the NEMs said. "Listen, we've got to get all this aboardand there's another load packed up inside. How many personnel d'you have?"
"Eighteen. They want us to hurry it up"
"Come on, then." Half the NEMs turned, as if to head back inside; the others were still obviously guarding the scientist-prisoners.
"Barhidecome on down" said one of the newcomers. Eight more armed men came down the shuttle's ramp.
These were much less wary, their weapons now slung on their backs.
"We're goin' in to pick up the rest of the cargo," she heard one of them say, and someone aboard the shuttlea pilot, she hopedtold them to hurry it up.
With her primary task still the professor's life, she had no part in the brief, violent struggle that followed, when the NEMs and the other loyalist troops jumped the mutineers and killed them, while the putative rebel NEMS chivvied the scientists toward the shuttle, talking loudly on open mikes. It took less than two minutes, and most of it had happened out of sight of scan from overhead. Margiu scrambled out of her p-suit into the gray shipsuit of the dead enemy, rolled him into her p-suit, and let one of the NEMs haul him out by the legs. She crammed the com helmet on her head, tucking the telltale red hair out of sight, and stalked out onto the runway as if she belonged there.
The cargo was moving slowly up the ramp, with the laboring scientists complaining vociferously that it was dangerous, that it could blow them all up, that they should be careful. The NEMs swung their weapons, threateningly; scientists cringed; Margiu found it hard to believe it wasn't real. From the unreality of those hours of waiting, when it was real, to thisthe reversal confused her, but she found herself playing her part anyway.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have to apoligize ahead of time, because I am not a writer. I have read all of the books in this series and this one was most captivating. Elizabeth Moon is a very talented writer and can bring the plot to life. I feel that getting this book in hard cover was very worth it. I am very glad I did not wait for the paperback. The last chapter very nicely puts how I feel about the military personel and how the general public percieves them. Thank You Elizabeth Moon.
A fun and exciting story, sometimes sad but a great read.
Esmay Suiza knows that marrying Barin Serrano against the wishes of both their families will have consequences, but she doesn't anticipate being dismissed from the Fleet on the orders of a Serrano admiral. As Esmay makes her way to Castle Rock, in hopes that her friend Brun Meager-Thornbuckle (of the Familias Regnant) may help, she has no idea that Barin has come close to dying in battle. Traveling aboard a trade-ship that doesn't normally carry passengers keeps her insulated from much of what's happening in the rest of Familias space, as the Fleet is torn apart by mutiny and Brun's family finds itself under attack from within. This seventh volume brings the Heris Serrano/Esmay Suiza series to a rousing conclusion, as the characters we've come to love find their places in the universe and their meticulously drawn society meets its greatest crisis. I'm disappointed that the author leaves several plot threads unresolved (or at least not clearly so), but it's an excellent read just the same. Especially the last poignant, downright haunting chapter.
Lots of long slow spots, but the worldbuilding is fantastic (as always). The characters are first rate, deep, and beleivable.
After The vast disappointment of 'Change of Command', I almost waited for the paperback. But As I hoped this book brought the plot left so frustratingly unclimaxed in the previous book to a satisfying conclusion. One piece of advice, if you haven't read 'Change of Command' yet and intend to, buy this book too. Moon should have edited 'Change of Command' and 'Against The Odds' into one Great book.