During a celestial civil war, an angel-like soldier searches for her missing brother.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
MAX GLADSTONE went to Yale, where he wrote a short story that became a finalist in the Writers of the Future competition. He is the author of Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
The Angelus Guns
By Max Gladstone, Victor Mosquera
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 Max Gladstone
All rights reserved.
Three nights after Thea's brother left for the revolution in the Crystal City, she packed a bag to follow him.
She expected a fight when she confessed her plan. Instead her young mother closed her eyes, and opened them, and asked, "Can you bring him back?" They sat together at their outpost's small kitchen table, and drank tea, and curled their wings close about themselves, though the late summer night was warm.
"I have to try," she said, "before the end. It won't be long now."
Her mother rocked on her stool.
Earlier that day, wandering among the primitives they'd come to this world to watch — scavenger lizards still struggling to master fire, a few thousand years behind schedule — they'd seen battleships gather in the sky, and heard the rumble of the Angelus Guns returning to the Crystal City. Rainbow machines in their blood sang a war song to call the hosts of heaven home.
"You could stay," her young mother said. "Let him live with the choice he's made. Our fighting days are done. We are scientists now. Scholars."
"I could stay," she said, meaning, but I will not.
"I can't lose you both."
"What if he does not want to leave? Will you fight to bring him home?"
Thea did not answer that question.
She packed light. No need for food. The rainbow machines would sustain her on the Crystal City's radiance. She brought a cup, a book, and a pen.
She left before the twin sunrise. Mud stuck between the treads of her boots, and she trailed wet deep footprints across the plain. Long-necked and broad-winged lizards wheeled in the sky and sang their croaking songs. After thirty years of study Thea had almost learned to find them beautiful.
Her old mother caught her near the ravine. Thea heard no wing beats, no footsteps. She saw the lizards flee, though, and was not surprised when a great dark figure landed between her and the cliff's edge.
Thea's old mother was a statue of jet. Her pinions gleamed with blades.
"You should not go."
"I know," Thea said. "For some values of should."
Her old mother laughed at that, a sound like mountain-sized wind chimes rung by a hurricane. "The fleet has returned home. This rebellious spat will end in fire. The guns will sing, and soon."
"I'll find him first."
"I would go with you," she said. "She won't let me. She says we're both too old. She's right."
"I'm glad you came. I didn't want to leave without seeing you. You haven't wanted to talk about him, these last few days."
"This is hard," her old mother said. "And I am lazy. As your mother would be the first to say."
Thea's old mother held out her hands, and the twin suns dimmed. Across her palms lay a sword. Fire gleamed from the four-foot blade. Fire was the blade: a nova's fury, a fusion furnace confined by the magic of magnetic fields. The hilt alone did not burn. Jet, that, like her old mother's flesh, and the grip wrapped in local lizard-skin. A personal weapon, honed and kept with care since long-gone days of active duty.
"I can't take this," Thea said.
"You can," her old mother replied, "and will. I am not what I once was, but the fleet respects me nonetheless. My sword will bear you through the battle line. And it may keep you safe. Don't refuse me."
Thea folded the sword small, and placed it in her bag with the cup and book and pen. She hugged her old mother, and felt the strength of her arms as she hugged back. Neither of them was strong enough to speak.
They parted. Thea walked to the ravine's edge.
The twin suns cast shafts of light through the misty depths below.
Thea stepped off the edge. Her wings flared, and she flew.
The Crystal City shone in the space its builders made for it, in the time they'd manufactured beyond time. They built the sails first, a vast and shimmering petal-globe around the naked singularity at the city's heart. Between those sails they wove a diamond lattice, and from the lattice their palaces and chapels hung, and their dance halls and shipyards, schools and factories and museums harboring trophies from wars fought across many worlds in all the many histories.
The city shone, and also burned. Flames melted glass arches. One of the shield-sails wilted: breached, deflating. Continent-thick strands of diamond severed, arteries of transit and commerce broken. Stains spread from the wound, a tarnish, a sickness at the center of the world.
Battleships the size of moons hung by the millions outside the shield-sails. Veins in their hulls glimmered with power they harvested from the singularity sun, here at the built heart of everything. Between them, living starfields swarmed: the myriad hosts of all the many heavens. Home again. Called back from their missions to put this revolution to rest.
Any other target would have been warped and torn by the sheer weight of so much force, shivered to component atoms by the strength of their song. But the Crystal City did not shiver.
Thea's wings had borne her here, along the shifting paths between the worlds. As soon as she arrived, she was grateful for her old mother's gift. Even when the Crystal City was a thumbnail-sized sphere in the marbled distance, she felt the fleet's eyes settle on her. She drew her sword and held it before her like a torch. The soldiers knew it, as did the ships, and the immense minds that united both. Some notes of their million-chorus chord changed.
Zeke's voice entered her ear as she approached the city. She'd served with him in her new-forged days, and when she left, he stayed on. Reenlisted. Some were like that — lifers. She had hoped he might have found a new calling. "Thea. You shouldn't be here."
"Is that you, Zeke? Or is the fleet borrowing your voice?"
"Does it matter?"
She did not answer that question. "I'm looking for my brother."
"Does it matter?" she echoed.
"Yes," he said.
"A scholar. Come to observe. Stuck in this madness. Let me through."
"You would say that even if he came to fight."
"Maybe. Will you let me pass?"
A pause. In their silence her wings bore her miles closer to the city. Targeting systems danced across her skin, faint as a lover's feathers. The sword might be able to protect her, if they fired. For a moment. "We respect your mother's blade."
We. Not I.
"Do you remember the little world with the dragonflies that sang?"
"Yes," he said. So swift, they'd been, and beautiful.
"Do you remember what we did to them?"
That had not been beautiful at all. Business: a few millennia after gaining sentience, some of those dragonflies' descendants broke free of time and reshaped their own history. They built a grand empire. Spread their wings over a super-cluster. The city fought them through the ages, and broke them. But in the furthest echoes of prehistory, their ancestors sang songs, and the songs they sang were glorious.
"I remember." He sounded as if he wished he did not.
"Thank you," she said. And she flew on, and in.
A million miles was a long way to fly, even with her wings. She drank a cup of tea, and read from her book as she neared the armada. Battleships watched her pass. Sleeping guns strained against their bonds. Stored radiance seeped out through seams in their armor.
Flying beside those ships, those guns, was hard enough. Flying in front of them crisped her nerves with panic. Might as well press the point of her mother's sword to her chest and slide it home. The guns' mouths gaped black, but she knew the holocaust stored within. She remembered what those weapons did to diamond and to flesh. She remembered what she'd done with them. What the many choirs would do, when the order came to fire.
The guns did not speak yet.
She flew into the city to find her brother.
Within its shield-sails, the city was giant, old, and wise. Light raced down diamond channels. Walls sang the glory of the world transformed. Tapestries fluttered from towering arches. But the streets were empty, and few builders moved through the skies where Thea flew. Cafes and music halls stood vacant. Fountains gushed in deserted parks. Delicate harp trills thrilled no ears.
Those who lived here knew the fleet had come, and took shelter in their homes, or outside the shield wall, or in the deep recesses of ordinary time. They did not need to see the future to know what would happen soon.
She perched on one of the many balconies of a five-tipped diamond spire, on the edge of the spreading taint. Smoke rose from occupied intersections of the world-web.
She asked her book to find her brother, and when she turned the page it told her it could not. She'd feared and expected that answer. He was beyond the web.
He stood with the rebels after all.
She returned the book to her bag, and flew along the city's vast diamond arteries until she reached a break. Shimmering fiber optics ran dark. Snapped and frayed edges of carbon nanotubes sparked rainbow in the singularity radiance. Smoke hung heavy in the air. Several miles of cable had been severed, and dead builders floated in the gap, wings limp, bodies broken, open eyes still watching for a last-minute savior who had not come. Husks, she hoped, minds stored safe somewhere. She did not know for certain.
The bodies' wings were red.
Though the virus-taint extended for light-seconds around, the rebels had only cordoned off this neighborhood, barely a few hundred miles in diameter. Severed most of the strands that bound it to the city. Hence the darkness beyond, and the smell. The gap was easy to cross. She flew from one end of the severed cord to the other.
Bodies spun around her in free fall. She rolled past them, through them. A floating drop of rainbow blood splashed her arm, left a long sticky trail, then burned off.
She felt no mind within the drop.
Landing on the opposite road, she waited for a challenge, but received none. She made her cup fill itself with blood — the old, red kind — and dipped her wing tips one after another in it. Capillary action spread the blood through translucent crystal, and soon her wings were crimson as the rebels'.
Satisfied, she flew into the darkness of occupied territory. The city broken was dull and dim. Its walls did not guide her. She followed the smell of smoke past dark houses and empty courtyards.
After several miles' flight she heard music — with her ears. No chords of transcendent bliss, no mechanical beauty, no choir calling her to dissolve into its massed, conducted will. Only vibrations in air, caused by a stringed instrument. A fiddle, she thought. She opened her book to check, but its pages lay blank. A fiddle, played with feeling, though some notes skewed sharp and others flat, and the player lacked rhythm.
She flew toward the music. Fire danced within darkened houses. The fiddler sat on a windowsill, silhouetted by flame. She rose to him, wings spread wide. He seemed sick, skin sallow, face lined and dim, feathers drooping. Only his fingers lived, dancing on the fiddle's neck. Beneath the music she heard fingertips strike the ebon board, and horsehair dragged over strings.
Where he found the horse, she didn't know.
He played his song three times more. Behind him the fire burned, a wood fire in a glass chamber with no chimneys, and in the shadows and smoke others tumbled making love. When the fiddler finished, he looked up, saw her, and tottered back off the windowsill in surprise. Thea grabbed his bow arm, arresting his fall.
"I'm looking for someone," she said.
"You've found someone." He was drunk. He reached for her waist, but she flew back from the window, still clutching his arm. He dangled from her grip, screaming. His wings flapped but did not fill. He struggled, though if he succeeded in breaking free he'd only die.
"I'm looking for my brother. His name is Gabe. A little taller than me. His skin is dark and his eyes are blue." She sang Gabe's song for him, a brief microwave burst. He looked up at her, uncomprehending. Of course. "How much of yourself have you cut off?"
"Enough," he said, half-angry, half-afraid.
"Gabe of the Seventh Chorus, Second Tenors, Antiphon. He came three days ago to study your rebellion."
"You won't drop me."
She looked deep into his eyes. She wouldn't drop him, not here, to these dumb streets, not with the world-web broken and the resurrection engines off. She wouldn't, but he was afraid. The rainbow machines would have cushioned his terror with a fair appraisal of her, but they had long since gone to sleep. Hormones and glandular fear clogged the slow brain that was all he had with which to judge whether she might kill.
"Someone who used that name," he said, "passed through three days ago. He went to Michael's Park, to join the crowd."
That place-name, spoken and not sung, might have meant any of a hundred spaces within the web, three inside this rebel zone. "Where?" she asked, and relaxed her grip. The fiddler slipped an inch. He screamed again. The fiddle struck his leg, a deep hollow sound rimmed with a chord of vibrating strings.
In the firelit room a woman cried with pleasure, as if to answer the scream.
He told her. She returned him to the windowsill, and spared a cautious glance at the lovers before she flew on.
She heard more music on the way to Michael's Park. A drum circle, with dancers inside, drummers' and dancers' wings alike dyed red, beats strong and slow and simple as they taught themselves to keep rhythm without aid. Singers sang, and not through any band or channel, their notes mere fading shivers on the air. In an abandoned lot a power trio burned through "All Along the Watchtower," with some words missing and others made up. A woman sang "Yi kuai hongbu" a cappella, standing on a box on a street corner, as a crowd listened. A thousand red-winged builders played "Ode to Joy" in unison on harpsichords. They repeated the melody four times as she flew overhead, and started on the fifth.
Rebels swarmed the streets, wings red and useless at their backs. None flew.
Thea smelled Michael's Park long before she saw it: smoke and electricity and sweat, anger and hope and seared meat. She remembered a few of those smells from her wars, and others she knew only through her mothers' memories, and their mothers', back up the warp and weft of time. She made herself invisible, knowing she could search best from the air.
Then she emerged from the close, tall towers into the open sky above the crowded park, all carbon paths and green grass, flowers and fruit trees and fountains covered with bodies and life. The rebels made music. The rebels made love. The rebels roasted meat and sang songs and danced and practiced war. At the park's outer edge, someone was killing oxen, imported probably from deep inside the timestream. They'd brought works of art here too, from the museums, bits of genius saved from obliterated worlds. One of the dragonflies' dream arches glinted million-colored beside a Gnathi obelisk. Again and again, she saw a slogan, on walls, on the sides of buildings, on paths and statuary: Gardens Do Not Grow.
Flying, alone, above the mass, she sought her brother. The book stayed blank, no help at all. She sang for him, but he did not answer. No surprise there.
She asked the rainbow machines to cut her fear as she flared her wings and let the crowd see her. Cries of fear and protest rose from the rebels beneath. Out of their mass four took flight, builders clothed and girded for war, rippling with rainbow clouds and waked by plasma spume. She recognized the forms into which their bodies swelled as their rainbow machines prepared to fight, waking dormant organs, spinning up silent subsystems, drinking singularity radiance to feed their weapons.
Theirs were standard combat forms. Not as grand as hers once was, but then, she had long since left the fleet behind. She could fight, but she had not come here to destroy. So she left her sword in the bag, and removed her pen.
The four ringed her, weapons burning.
"I don't want trouble," Thea said.
"Spies aren't welcome here," said the first. "Leave us in peace."
"I'm no spy. Just a tourist."
Excerpted from The Angelus Guns by Max Gladstone, Victor Mosquera. Copyright © 2014 Max Gladstone. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents