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About the Author
Carolyn Janice Cherry, better known by the pen name C. J. Cherryh, is the author of more than 70 books, including the Hugo Award-winning novels Downbelow Station and Cyteen, both set in her Alliance-Union universe. She planned to write since the age of ten, and when she was older, learned to use a typewriter while triple-majoring in Classics, Latin, and Greek. Cherryh is one of the most prolific and highly respected authors in the science fiction field.
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By C.J. Cherryh
Warner AspectCopyright © 1999 C.J. Cherryh
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was from the air that the rawness of the land showed most: vast tracts where humanity had as yet made no difference, deserts unclaimed, stark as moons, scrag and woolwood thickets unexplored except by orbiting radar. Ariane Emory gazed down at it from the window. She kept to the passenger compartment now. Her eyesight, she had had to admit it, was no longer sharp enough, her reflexes no longer fast enough for the jet. She could go up front, bump the pilot out of the chair and take the controls: it was her plane, her pilot, and a wide sky. Sometimes she did. But it was not the same.
Only the land was, still most of the land was. And when she looked out the window, it might have been a century ago, when humankind had been established on Cyteen less than a hundred years, when Union was unthought of, the War only a rumbling discontent, and the land looked exactly like this everywhere.
Two hundred years ago the first colonists had come to this unlikely star, made the beginnings of the Station, and come down to the world.
Forty-odd years later the sublight ships were coming in, few and forlorn, to try to convert their structure and their operations to faster-than-light; and time sped up, time hurtled at translight speeds, change came so fast that sublight ships met ships they took for alien-but they were not: it was worse news for them. They were human. And the game was all changed.
The starships went out like seeds from a pod. The genetics labs upriver at Reseune bred humanity as fast as it could turn them out from the womb-tanks, and every generation bred others and worked in labs breeding more and more, till there were people enough, her uncle had said, to fill the empty places, colonize the world, build more star-stations: Esperance. Fargone. Every place with its own labs and its own means to breed and grow.
Earth had tried to call her ships back. It was all too late. Earth had tried to tax and rule its colonies with a hard hand. That was very much too late.
Ariane Emory remembered the Secession, the day that Cyteen declared itself and its own colonies independent; the day the Union began and they were all suddenly rebels against the distant motherworld. She had been seventeen when the word came down from Station: We are at war.
Reseune bred soldiers, then, grim and single-minded and intelligent, oh yes: bred and refined and honed, knowing by touch and reflex what they had never seen in their lives, knowing above all what their purpose was. Living weapons, thinking and calculating down one track. She had helped design those patterns.
Forty-five years after the Secession the war was still going on, sometimes clandestine, sometimes so remote in space it seemed a fact of history-except at Reseune. Other facilities could breed the soldiers and the workers once Reseune had set the patterns, but only Reseune had the research facilities, and it had fought the war in its own dark ways, under Ariane Emory's directorate.
Fifty-four years of her life ... had seen the Company Wars over, humanity divided, borders drawn. The Earth Company Fleet had held Pell's Star, but the merchanters of the newly formed Alliance had taken Pell and declared it their base. Sol had tried to ignore its humiliating defeat and go off in another direction; the remnant of the old Company Fleet had turned to piracy and still raided merchanters, no different than they had ever done, while Alliance and Union alike hunted them. It was only hiatus. The war was cold again. It went on at conference tables where negotiators tried to draw lines biology did not, and make borders in boundless, three-dimensional space-to keep a peace that had never, in all Ariane Emory's life, existed.
All of that might not have been yet. It might have been a hundred years ago, except that the plane was sleek and fine, not the patch-together that had run cargo between Novgorod and Reseune: in those days everyone had sat on bales of plastics and containers of seed and whatever else was making the trip.
Then she had begged to sit by the dusty windows and her mother had said to put her sunscreen on, even so.
Now she sat in a leather seat with a drink at her elbow, in a jet snugly warm inside, immaculately maintained, with a handful of aides talking business and going over their notes, a noise just barely enough to get past the engines.
No traveling nowadays without a clutter of aides and bodyguards. Catlin and Florian were back there, quiet as they were trained to be, watching her back, even here, at 10,000 meters and among Reseune staff whose briefcases were full of classified material.
Much, much different from the old days.
Maman, can I sit by the window?
She was anomalous, child of two parents, Olga Emory and James Carnath. They had founded the labs at Reseune, had begun the process that had shaped Union itself. They had sent out the colonists, the soldiers. Their own genes had gone into hundreds of them. Her quasi-relatives were scattered across lightyears. But so were everyone's, these days. In her lifetime even that basic human thinking had changed: biological parentage was a trivial connection. Family mattered, the larger, the more extended ... the safer and more prosperous.
Reseune was her inheritance. Hence this jet, not a commercial airliner. No hired plane, either, and no military jet. A woman in her position could call on all these things; and still preferred mechanics who were part of the Household, a pilot whose psych-patterns she was sure of, bodyguards who were the best of Reseune's designs.
The thought of a city, the subways, life among the clerks and techs and cooks and laborers who jostled one another and hurried about their schedules to earn credit ... was as frightening to her as airless space. She directed the course of worlds and colonies. The thought of trying to buy a meal in a restaurant, of fighting crowds to board a subway, of simply being on a topside street where traffic roared and people were in motion on all sides-filled her with an irrational panic.
* * *
She did not know how to live outside Reseune. She knew how to arrange a plane, check out the flight plans, order her luggage, her aides, her security, every little detail-and found a public airport an ordeal. A serious flaw, granted. But everyone was due a phobia or two and these things were far from the center of her worries. It was not likely that Ariane Emory would ever face a Novgorod subway or a station's open dock.
It was a long, long while before she saw the river and the first plantation. A thin ribbon of road, finally the domes and towers of Novgorod, a sudden, remarkably sudden metropolis. Under the jet's wings the plantations widened, the towers of electronic screens and precipitators shadowed the fields and traffic crawled along the roads at ground-bound pace.
Barges chained down the Volga toward the sea, barges and pushers lined the river dockage past the plantations. There was still a lot of the raw and industrial about Novgorod, for all the glitter of the new. This side of it had not changed in a hundred years, except to grow bigger, the barges and the traffic becoming ordinary instead of a rare and wonderful sight.
Look, madman, there's a truck.
The blue of woolwood thicket blurred by under the wing. Pavement and the end-stripes of the runway flashed past.
The tires touched smoothly and the jet came rolling to a stop, for a left turn toward the terminal.
A little panic touched Ariane Emory at this stage, despite the knowledge that she would never get to the crowded hallways. There were cars waiting. Her own crew would handle the baggage, secure the jet, do all these things. It was only the edge of the city; and the car windows would permit vision out, but none in.
All those strangers. All that motion, random and chaotic. In the distance she loved it. It was her own creation. She knew its mass motions, if not its individual ones. At a distance, in the aggregate, she trusted it.
At close range it made her hands sweat.
* * *
Cars pulling up and a flurry of hurrying guards in the security entrance of the Hall of State said that it was no mere senatorial arrival. Mikhail Corain, on the balcony outside the Council Chamber, flanked by his own bodyguards and aides, paused and looked down on the echoing stone lower floor, with its fountain, its brass railings on the grand stairway, its multiple star-emblem in gold on the gray stone wall.
Imperial splendor for imperial ambitions. And the chief architect for those ambitions made her entrance. The Councillor from Reseune, in company with the Secretary of Science. Ariane Carnath-Emory with her entourage, late, dependably late, because the Councillor was damned confident of her majority, and only deigned to visit the Hall because the Councillor had to vote in person.
Mikhail Corain glared and felt that speeding of his heart that his doctors had told him to avoid. Calm down, they were wont to say. Some things are beyond your control.
Meaning, one supposed, the Councillor from Reseune.
Cyteen, by far the most populous of the entities in the Union, had consistently managed to capture two seats in the executive, in the Council of Nine. It was logical that one of them was the Bureau of Citizens, which meant labor and farming and small business. It was not logical that the electors in the sciences, far and wide cross the lightyears Union reached, with a dozen eminently qualified potential candidates, persisted in returning Ariane Emory to the halls of government.
More than that. To a position which she had held for fifty years, fifty damned years, during which she had bribed and browbeaten interests on Cyteen and every station in Union and (rumored but never proved) in Alliance and Sol as well. You wanted something done? You asked someone who could get the Councillor of Science to arrange it. What were you willing to pay? What would you take in trade?
And the damned Science electorate, made up of supposed intellects, kept voting her in, no matter what the scandals that attached to her, no matter that she virtually owned Reseune labs, which was legally equal to a planet in Union's government, which did things within its walls that countless investigations had tried (and failed, on technicalities) to prove.
Money was not the answer. Corain had money. It was Ariane Emory herself. It was the fact that most of the population of Cyteen, most of the population of Union itself, had come in one way or another from Reseune; and those who did not, used tapes ... that Reseune devised.
Which that woman ... devised.
To doubt the integrity of the tapes was paranoid. Oh, there were a few who refused to use them; and studied higher math and business without them, and never took a pill and never lay down to dream what the masses clear across Union dreamed, knowledge pouring into their heads, as much as they could absorb, there in a few sessions. Drama-experienced as well as seen ... at carefully chosen intensity. Skills-acquired at a bone and nerve level. You used the tapes because your competition would, because you had to excel to get along in the world, because it was the only way to know things fast enough, high enough, wide enough, and the world changed and changed and changed, in any human lifespan.
The Bureau of Information vetted those tapes. Experts reviewed them. There was no way any subliminals could get past them. Mikhail Corain was not one of the lunatic fringe who suspected government com-tapping, Alliance poisoning of cargoes, or mind-enslaving subliminals in the entertainment tapes. That sort of purist could refuse rejuv, die old at seventy-five, and live off public works jobs because they were self-taught know-nothings.
But damn it, damn it, that woman kept getting elected. And he could not understand it.
There she was, getting a little stoop to the shoulders, allowing a little streak of gray to show in the black hair, when anyone who could count knew she was older than Union, on rejuv and silver-haired under the dye. Aides swarmed round her. Cameras focused on her as if there was no other center to the universe. Damn bony bitch.
You wanted a human being designed like a prize pig, you asked Reseune. You wanted soldiers, you wanted workers, you wanted strong backs and weak minds or a perfect, guaranteed genius, you asked Reseune.
And senators and Councillors alike came to bow and scrape and mouth Politenesses-Good God, someone had brought her flowers.
Mikhail Corain turned away in disgust, plowed himself a way through his aides.
Twenty years he had been sitting as head of the minority party in the Nine, twenty years of swimming against the tide, gaining a little now and again, losing all the big ones, the way they had lost the latest. Stanislaw Vogel of the Trade electorate had died, and with the Alliance violating the treaty as fast as they could arm their merchant ships, the Centrists ought to have been able to carry that seat. But no. The Trade electorate elected Ludmilla deFranco, Vogel's niece. Moderate, hell, deFranco was only steering a careful course. She was no less an Expansionist than her uncle. Something had changed hands. Someone had been bought, someone had tilted Andrus Company toward deFranco, and the Centrists had lost their chance to install a fifth member in the Nine and gain the majority of the executive for the first time in history.
It was a crushing disappointment.
And there, there in the hall downstairs, in the middle of the sycophants and all the bright young legislators, was the one who had pulled the strings money could not pull.
Political favor, then. The unprovable, untraceable commodity.
On that, the fate of the Union hinged.
He entertained the most terrible fantasy, not for the first time, that somehow, on the steps outside, some lunatic might run up with a gun or a knife and solve their problem at one stroke. He felt a profound disturbance at that thought. But it would reshape the Union. It would give humankind a chance, before it was everlastingly too late.
One life-weighed very little in those scales.
He drew deep breaths. He walked into the Council chambers and made polite conversation with the few who came to commiserate with the losers. He gritted his teeth and walked over to pay his polite congratulations to Bogdanovitch, who, holding the seat of the Bureau of State, chaired the Council.
Bogdanovitch kept his face absolutely bland, his kindly, white-browed eyes the image of everyone's grandfather, full of gentility and civility. Not a trace of triumph. If he had been that good when he negotiated the Alliance settlement, Union would own the codes to Pell. Bogdanovitch was always better at petty politics. And he was another one who lasted. His electorate was all professional, the consuls, the appointees, immigration, the station administrators-a minuscule number of people to elect an office which had started out far less important than it had turned out to be.
Excerpted from Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh Copyright © 1999 by C.J. Cherryh. Excerpted by permission.
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