About the Author
L. Neil Smith is the two time winner of the Prometheus Award for Best Libertarian Fiction for his novels Pallas (1993) and The Probability Broach (1980). As founder and National Coordinator of the Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus, publisher of the on-line magazine The Libertarian Enterprise, and a Life member of the National Rifle Association, Smith is renowned for his prominence in the Libertarian movement, of which he has been a part of for more than thirty-five years. Author of more than twenty books, Smith has been hailed for his ability to combine adventure, humor, and rivetingly original political concepts to create more compellingly than any other writer, novels that embody Libertarian concepts. He currently resides in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his wife and daughter.
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By L. Neil Smith, James Frenkel
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1997 L. Neil Smith
All rights reserved.
Sedgeley Daimler-Wilkinson was the kind of man of whom it is said, "His future is all behind him."
Once upon a time, some fifteen years ago, old-style, he had been a great favorite among the loveliest, best-turned-out and fashionable ladies that the Monopolity of Hanover—a glorious entity in and of itself—had ever produced. Once upon a time, he had been a gentleman gambler, epicure, gallant, and interstellar diplomat. Once upon a time, he had arisen, hand over hand as it were, to the exalted and powerful station of Executor-General to the Ceo of the Monopolitan 'Droom.
Now, a discontented Sedgeley grunted to himself and watched a minuscule stream of silvery bubbles escape his lips, as some final corner of a lung gave up its last measure of air to the medium in which his body hung suspended. It would have been ridiculous, in all sincerity, to refer to his circumstances as "reduced," although again, in all sincerity, that was just how he felt about them.
Had it been easier, he would have sighed.
His personal apartments, as luxurious as might have been found in all of the magnificent capital city nearby, were filled, from lushly carpeted floor to highly embellished ceiling, with one of the most expensive artificial substances known to the many imperia-conglomerate that occupy the vast and star-filled Deep. Paintings and other hangings upon their walls were of the highest quality, and the sconces that illuminated them were subtle and well placed.
He squirmed to reposition himself upon a chaise lounge that felt little of his weight. This rich liquid he breathed was as clear as the very air, suffused with oxygen and vitamins and nutrients and medicines in such a manner that no man who had taken up this way of life that Sedgeley now found himself pursuing had ever died, so far, but instead had lived far beyond his natural time.
And perhaps, Sedgeley found himself thinking, beyond the time he wished to live.
Had he desired it, he might have floated upward—indeed, flown—and turned one joyous somersault or cartwheel after another in the center of the room. Instead, he sat in pensive thought, waiting for a matched pair from the latest batch of beautiful young colonial girls to fetch him a fresh dressing gown—with weighted hem—a sumptuous midday meal eaten for pleasure alone, and, as always, the unrestrained enjoyment of their smooth, tight, youth-hard flesh.
The physical reaction beneath his present attire which that particular idea provoked was a testimony, at his age, to the effectiveness of his current way of life. Out of long habit, he sought a subject upon which to contemplate that would allow him to control his rejuvenated body until such a reaction was appropriate.
The 'Droom, he reflected with some effort, sometimes referred to as the "Congress of Masques," was the penultimate locus of all governance within the mighty, dreaded, and fearsome Monopolity of Hanover. And Sedgeley, with his distinguished features concealed by a stylish and provocative machiavelli, or sometimes a dashing relief, had been the feared and powerful right-hand henchman to none other than Ceo Leupould IX, himself, absolute ruler, for his part, of the most feared and powerful imperium-conglomerate in the Known Universe.
Sedgeley squirmed again. As far as that went, the Monopolity of Hanover was still the most feared and powerful imperium-conglomerate in the Known Universe; what galled its former Executor-General was that it appeared to be accomplishing this entirely without the benefit of his particular talents and expertise.
It had all been long ago, long before Sedgeley had been persuaded to become another humble "Initiate" of the so-called "Immortal School" and, like his fellow Initiates, spend as much of his time as he could contrive, immersed and weightless in whole suites of oxygenated liquid fluorocarbon. And, like his fellow Initiates, Sedgeley told himself that it was a calling similar in many respects—but by no means all, it was conceded—to that of a simple monk.
The "by no means all" encompassed the finest food, the best clothing, the most comfortable quarters that their vast commingled wealth was capable of obtaining. It also included perpetual saturation of their unique liquid environment with longevity drugs and other beneficial substances. In addition, Initiates could look forward every day to an intimate and continuous attendance upon their pampered persons by hordes of attractive and compliant females, shipped in by the dozen upon a regular basis—happy to be "rescued" from the uncultured hinterlands-from the Monopolity's many starflung Drectorates.
Unsurprised at the devious persistence of his appetites, Sedgeley once again found it necessary to redirect his thoughts. The task was less demanding than might have been supposed, for to individuals such as himself, accustomed to wielding great power, a full life consisted of far more than unremitting satiation.
A particle of self-flagellation would appear to be in order, and, for the former Executor-General, the scourge was always near at hand. The principal reason for Sedgeley's more or less luxurious state of disgrace preyed forever upon his mind: a humiliating (if not to confess, astonishing) military defeat that the Monopolity of Hanover had suffered those fifteen years ago, at the hands of a rebellious young Drector-Hereditary of a backwater colonial world, the beautiful, mountainous, everblue-wooded, moonringed—intransigent—planet Skye.
For the briefest of moments, Sedgeley was tempted to wonder why no Skyan girls, known throughout the Monopolity for their beauty and peasant vitality, seemed ever to be brought to him—then he chuckled to himself at the lethal absurdity of such an idea. Skyan girls were also known for their stiff-necked pride, proclivity to violence, and bitter hatred of all things Hanoverian. Oddly, no special effort was required upon his part this time to regain his self-control.
Arran Islay, the rebellious young Drector-Hereditary in question, had been rather better known a decade and a half ago as the infamous "boy captain" so beloved of admiring (if stultifyingly gullible) souls throughout the great galactic Deep: "Henry Martyn," interstellar brigand, starship-robber, and starport-raider. Also—and perhaps more to the point in the present context—liberator of slaves, rescuer of worlds, and redistributor of governmental wealth.
For the first time in something like nine hundred years, the Monopolity had lost territory!
In the horrifying aftermath, somebody in high places had been required to take complete responsibility for the Skyan fiasco. Sedgeley Daimler-Wilkinson had been "volunteered." Forced to resign in public disgrace, he had been banished from the Hanoverian 'Droom. His subsequent "conversion" to the Immortal School had come at the heartfelt insistence of a dear old political enemy.
Where were those girls?
Frantisek Demondion-Echeverria, former Ambassador Plenipotentiary to the 'Droom, was at present also in genteel disgrace—and for precisely the same cause. His commission had been to speak for the bizarre court of Ribauldequin XXIII, Ceo of the sinister Jendyne Empery-Cirot. Heretofore the Monopolity's principal rival for control of everything in the universe that was known to exist, that imperium-conglomerate had for the nonce joined forces with Hanover against the dangerous precedent this upstart Drector-Hereditary represented. It would never do to let the proletariat govern themselves, in particular if they achieved that capability by force of arms. History demonstrated with a frightful clarity that, in their blind ignorance and vindictive selfishness, the rabble could never be relied upon to take seriously such broad-minded and altruistic concerns as the continued safety and comfort of their former rulers.
Thus, as a consequence of this alliance, and no small thanks due to Henry Martyn, the utter humiliation suffered by the Jendyne Empery-Cirot at the ill-starred "Battle of Skye" had been altogether quite as complete as that borne by the Monopolity of Hanover itself. And, exactly like his counterpart Sedgeley Daimler-Wilkinson, Frantisek Demondion-Echeverria had been the highest-ranking official who could be "found" to take personal responsibility for it. He, too, had resigned in disgrace. But he had also chosen to request sanctuary upon Hanover (the requisite consent having been the onliest favor a departing Executor-General had demanded of his secretly grateful sovereign) as an alternative more desirable than facing the customary thrusting-squad at home.
But these matters of state were the merest trifles. More embarrassing—at least Sedgeley had always felt that it was so—was the fact that he had afterward become known far and wide throughout both imperia-conglomerate as the uncle and former guardian to the beautiful, brave, and clever Loreanna Islay.
Orphaned daughter to Sedgeley's late younger brother Clive and the lovely Jennivere Daimler-Wilkinson, Loreanna had been taken from him in a manner both bold and cruel at the tender and impressionable age of fourteen, and ruined—from her uncle Sedgeley's traditional Hanoverian point of view—by her captor, who else but the notorious kidnaper and rapist Henry Martyn? Of course, Henry Martyn—young Arran Islay—had himself been but fifteen years of age at the time.
Loreanna had become a prisoner and sexual plaything while in the process of being carted off (the most reluctant of starship passengers even before she had been abducted) in her uncle's stern disfavor to the coldest, most backward planetary system—what was its blasted name, again, Baffridgestar?—that he could find for her. The "crime" for which she was being punished was among the most "un-Hanoverian" of acts imaginable: in a fit of willful temperament, the ungrateful girl had refused to wed the man her loving uncle had chosen for her!
The very thought of such behavior rankled Sedgeley, even after all these years.
Where were those girls?CHAPTER 2
Sedgeley Daimler-Wilkinson's afternoon diversion was, as he had expected, more than satisfactory, and luncheon itself quite as magnificent as usual. Had it not been for the "discipline" of the Immortal School, he reflected—or to be more candid and precise, for the "miraculous" healing properties of its "waters," which seemed capable of compensating for even the most egregious of sybaritic excesses—Sedgeley suspected that by now he would have been quite obese.
Or quite dead.
Now, as the daylight he almost never saw began to fail outside the great doors of the Immortal School's establishment—here in what might have been called the Hanoverian suburbs, except that the municipality enveloped the entire planet of the same name—he looked forward with some enthusiasm to a weekly evening spent breathing air, playing cards, and enjoying intelligent, polite converse with a fellow Initiate of his own age and cultural sophistication. His earlier company had by no means been selected for their repartee.
There would be another sumptuous meal, a cigar (despite being saturated with oxygen, the fluorocarbon would not support combustion, since it carried away heat before anything could burn), and afterward there would be letters to write, a task that he found less onerous, somehow, without a liquid medium surrounding him. Then, content once again, back he would go to the comfort of his own apartments and the warm, quivering, eager concavities of whatever well-trained, decorative, and willing companions of the evening the Immortal School's computer (and how well it knew his tastes!) had seen fit to assign him.
But first, before any of that was possible, there was a hated ordeal to endure. Sedgeley's life, like those of all other Initiates of the Immortal School, was bounded by a pair of gross but necessary unpleasantnesses—by a Scylla and Charybdis, as it were—known hereabouts as the First Breath and the Last.
The First Breath—of oxygenated fluorocarbon—demanded some modicum of determination, although the first First Breath (his recollection of it remained extremely vivid, even after fifteen years) had been quite another matter altogether.
Everyone had his own way of coping with the Last Breath. Some, like his friend Frantisek, favored stout lines fastened at the ankles and a winch that wrenched one from the liquid into a high-ceilinged anteroom constructed for the purpose. Others preferred a carpeted incline upon which they lay with their heads lower than their feet; female attendants artfully distracted them from the rigor of the experience, while others massaged their lungs free of the fluorocarbon.
Neither method seemed entirely satisfactory to Sedgeley, because each necessitated rather a deal of coughing—unpleasant enough in itself—and involved an additional gamble which, for his own part, he was unwilling to undertake, that of losing the wonderful meal he had enjoyed only the hour before.
As a pleasanter alternative, he stood now upside down, upon a wire-mesh platform—having this time donned a dressing gown with floating hem—not far beneath the rippling, mirrored surface of his foyer. From a tube, he breathed air that had been treated to prevent the hated coughing reflex, until that gas displaced every last drop of liquid from his lungs. In only a few moments, he would emerge, like an ordinary swimmer, with far greater dignity and composure than those accustomed to more heroic methods of environmental transition.
His mind, meanwhile, otherwise unoccupied by the singular but undemanding task, still focused upon his beloved but ungrateful niece who, with a degree of animation he found unseemly—and against her own obvious best interests as well as her loving uncle's most fervent wishes—had, in the end, wed the arrogant young brigand Henry Martyn by whom she had lately been abducted and despoiled.
Their wedding had followed hard upon young May's infamous ship-victory in the boundless Deep over the best-established military powers in the known universe, represented in the combined fleets of Hanover, the Jendyne Empery-Cirot, and a handful of minor, tributary imperia-conglomerate. The upstart Drector-Hereditary had humiliated the 'Droom further by having enlisted aliens—nonhuman beings—as his allies, among them the seporth and the nacyl, heretofore unsuspected of harboring the least spark of sapience, and commonly known everywhere for their respective body-shapes as "rollerballers" and "flatsies."
Rather than becoming disillusioned over such unsporting conduct on the part of her erstwhile paramour—as any proper Hanoverian female should have been—Loreanna had displayed the utter cheek to express her delight and pride in Henry Martyn's ill-won successes. From time to time—half in jest it was to be hoped, but to the unvarying chagrin of her much-abused uncle—she had even been known to affix the signature, "Loreanna Martyn," to her correspondence.
Nor was that to be the half of it. In the fifteen years that had come and gone since Arran Islay had shattered Sedgeley's distinguished public career, his wretched niece had borne that incontinent young cockerel some indeterminate but thoroughly barbaric and disgusting number of children—six, he thought their number was, to date—quite as if she were some sort of agricultural breeding creature, seething with animal passions, rather than the distant, refined young Monopolitan aristocrat he had thought he was bringing up.
Human memory being the wanton, guileful thing it happens to be and owing to the stubborn girl's unsolicited but rather frequent correspondence, he was even capable, as a matter of surprising fact, of enumerating the many children of Arran and Loreanna Islay—strictly as an intellectual exercise.
The first, if he recalled aright, would be Robretta, a stormy, willful maiden of fifteen, wholly Skyan in character and attitude (again the unfortunate phrases "stiff-necked pride, proclivity to violence, and bitter hatred of all things Hanoverian" came to mind), named for Arran's father and elder brother, deemed heroic by that wild world's populace. Both had been foully murdered—Sedgeley was disposed to concede that much—amidst atrocities upon Skye that had led, in the end, to Arran's stunning defeat of Hanover. In a sense, the Mays' choice of name for their firstborn was tantamount to a declaration of war.
Then there was heartbreaking Phoebe, a sweet, demure girl of eleven, called, with considerable if unintended irony, after Henry Martyn's best friend, first officer, and lusty companion in harm's way, the formidable ship-robber Phoebus Krumm.
Lia, he believed, was next, a brilliant scholar and wonder-child at nine, named to perfection—and everyone's delight—after an accomplished woman known, if for nothing else, as her father Arran's erudite and handsome boyhood tutor.
Excerpted from Bretta Martyn by L. Neil Smith, James Frenkel. Copyright © 1997 L. Neil Smith. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPROLOGUE: THE GALACTIC COORDINATOR,
PART ONE: LIA WOODGATE,
CHAPTER I: AMAZING DISGRACE,
CHAPTER II: INFAMOUS VICTORY,
CHAPTER III: REDUCED CIRCUMSTANCES,
CHAPTER IV: DAMAGED GOODS,
CHAPTER V: AN UNWANTED TIME OF TRIAL,
CHAPTER VI: THE BRAND OF BASTARDY,
CHAPTER VII: BIG, SILLY BIRDS,
CHAPTER VIII: TOO TERRIBLE TO TOLERATE,
PART TWO: BRETTA ISLAY,
CHAPTER IX: A MESSAGE FROM HANOVER,
CHAPTER X: THE USAGES OF POWER,
CHAPTER XI: MEMORIES OF WAR,
CHAPTER XII: RUMINATIONS UNDER GLASS,
CHAPTER XIII: OF PARENTS AND CHILDREN,
CHAPTER XIV: OF CHILDREN AND PARENTS,
CHAPTER XV: ARRAN ISLAYS DAUGHTER,
PART THREE: JENNIVERE DAIMLER-WILKINSON,
CHAPTER XVI: DICTATES OF FASHION,
CHAPTER XVII: A SHOW OF ACCESSIBILITY,
CHAPTER XVIII: CIVILIZED CAPTIVITY,
CHAPTER XIX: AN ALMOST MOTHERLY INTEREST,
CHAPTER XX: EUNUCHS DRESSED AS CLOWNS,
CHAPTER XXI: NOBLE SAVAGES,
CHAPTER XXII: THE SHADOWS BETWEEN THE STARS,
CHAPTER XXIII: A CEO'S SECRET,
CHAPTER XXIV: BENEATH CONTEMPT,
PART FOUR: ANASTASIA WHEELER,
CHAPTER XXV: THE NIGHT-BLACK DEEP,
CHAPTER XXVI: BASIS FOR SELECTION,
CHAPTER XXVII: HIJACKED AT LENSPOINT,
CHAPTER XXVIII: BALANCE OF TERRA,
CHAPTER XXIX: THE WINDHOVER,
PART FIVE: LOREANNA ISLAY,
CHAPTER XXX: THREE TACTICAL ELEMENTS,
CHAPTER XXXI: HEAT AND CLAMOR,
CHAPTER XXXII: THE BUTCHER'S BILL,
CHAPTER XXXIII: A NEGLECTED SPOUSE,
CHAPTER XXXIV: THE LADDERWELL,
CHAPTER XXXV: OVERMOMS IN CANDYLAND,
PART SIX: HENRY MARTYN'S DAUGHTER,
CHAPTER XXXVI: THE LAMINA,
CHAPTER XXXVII: SHAH NAMAH,
CHAPTER XXXVIII: THE SEVEN-GUNNER,
CHAPTER XXXIX: A TOUCH OF THE ULSIC,
CHAPTER XL: BOBSHAWS AND VULNAVIAS,
CHAPTER XLI: LARGE, IRREVOCABLE STEPS,
EPILOGUE: THE GALACTIC COORDINATOR,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
What People are Saying About This
Bretta rules! Bretta Martyn is a terrific yarn, crammed with wonder, action, and ideas, yet filled with warmth and humor as well.