With the Lightnings (RCN Series #1)by David Drake
Men and women who hold courage cheap and honor more dear than life itself face impossible odds in this new novel of military science fiction by a master of the form. From the corridors of a treason-ridden palace to a final blazing climax in space, the heroes never bow and the action never flags.
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With the Lightnings
By David Drake
Baen BooksISBN: 0-671-57886-3
Chapter OneMe that 'ave followed my trade In the place where the Lightnin's are made ... -Kipling
Lieutenant Daniel Leary ambled through the streets of Kostroma City in the black-piped gray 2nd Class uniform of the Republic of Cinnabar Navy. He was on his way to the Elector's Palace, but there was no hurry and really nothing more important for Daniel to do than to savor the fact that he'd realized one of his childhood dreams: to walk a far world and see its wonders first hand.
His other dream, to command a starship himself, would come (if at all) in the far future; a future as distant in Daniel's mind as childhood seemed from his present age of twenty-two Terran years.
For now, he had Kostroma and that was wonder enough. He whistled a snatch of a tune the band had played at the supper club he'd visited the night before.
Daniel smiled, an expression so naturally warm that strangers on the street smiled back at him. The Kostroman lady he'd met there was named Silena. The honor both of a Leary of Bantry and the RCN required that Daniel offer his help when the lady's young escort drank himself into babbling incapacity. Silena had been very appreciative; and after the first few minutes back at her lodgings, pique at her original escort was no longer her primary focus.
Daniel was only a little above average height with a tendency toward fleshiness that showed itself particularly in his florid face. His roundness and open expression caused strangers sometimes to dismiss Daniel Leary as soft. That was a mistake.
A canal ran down the center of the broad street. During daylight it carried only small craft, water taxis and light delivery vehicles, but at night barges loaded with construction materials edged between the stone banks with loud arguments over right-of-way. The pavements to either side seethed with a mixture of pedestrians and three-wheeled motorized jitneys, though like the canals they would fill with heavy traffic after dark.
The Kostroman economy was booming on the profits of interstellar trade, and much of that wealth was being invested here in the capital. Rich merchants built townhouses, and the older nobility added to the palaces of their clans so as not to be outdone.
Folk at a lower social level-clerks in the trading houses, the spacers who crewed Kostroma's trading fleet, and the laborers staffing the factories and fisheries that filled those starships, all had gained in some degree. They wanted improved lodgings as well, and they were willing to pay for them.
Daniel walked along whistling, delighted with the pageant. People wore colorful clothing in unfamiliar styles. Many of them chattered in local dialects: Kostroma was a watery planet from whose islands had sprung a hundred distinct tongues during the long Hiatus in star travel. Even those speaking Universal, now the common language of the planet as well as that of interstellar trade, did so in an accent strange to Cinnabar ears.
Civilization hadn't vanished on Kostroma as it had on so many worlds colonized during the first period of human star travel, but Kostroman society had fragmented without the lure of the stars to unify it. The centuries since Kostroma returned to space hadn't fully healed the social fabric: the present Elector, Walter III of the Hajas clan, had seized power in a coup only six months before.
Nobody doubted that Walter intended to retain Kostroma's traditional friendship with the Republic of Cinnabar, but the new Elector needed money. At the present state of the war between Cinnabar and the Alliance of Free Stars, Walter's hint that he might not renew the Reciprocity Agreement when it came due in three months had been enough to bring a high-level delegation from Cinnabar.
Daniel sighed. A high-level delegation, with one junior lieutenant thrown in as a makeweight. Daniel had almost certainly been sent because he was the son of the politically powerful Corder Leary, former Speaker of the Cinnabar Senate. Daniel's-bad-relationship with his father was no secret in the RCN, but the ins and outs of Cinnabar families wouldn't be common knowledge on Kostroma.
A man came out of a doorway, pushing himself onto the crowded pavement while calling final instructions to someone within the building. Daniel would have avoided the fellow if there'd been room. There wasn't, so he set his shoulder instead and it was the larger Kostroman who bounced back with a surprised grunt.
No one took notice of what was merely a normal hazard of city life. Daniel walked on, eyeing with interest the carven swags and volutes that decorated unpretentious four-story apartment buildings.
Kostromans didn't duel the way members of Cinnabar's wealthy families sometimes did. On the other hand, feuds and assassinations were accepted features of Kostroman social life. Daniel supposed it was whatever you were used to.
In Xenos, Cinnabar's capital, real magnates like Corder Leary moved through the streets with an entourage of fifty or more clients, some of whom might be senators themselves. You stepped aside or the liveried toughs leading the procession knocked you aside. The free citizens of the galaxy's proudest republic accepted-indeed, expected-that their leaders would behave in such fashion. Who would obey a man who lacked a strong sense of his own honor?
Birds fluted as they spun in tight curves from roof coping to roof coping overhead. They were avian in the same sense as the scaly "birds" of Cinnabar, the winged amphibians of Sadastor, or the flyers of a thousand other worlds that humans had visited and described. The details were for scientists to chart and for quick-eyed amateurs like Daniel Leary to notice with delight.
During the final quarrel Daniel had said he'd take nothing from his father; but the Leary name had brought Daniel to Kostroma. Well, the name was his by right, not his father's gift. Daniel didn't have a shipboard appointment, and he really had no duties even as part of Admiral Dame Martina Lasowski's delegation; but he'd reached the stars.
The Kostroman navy was small compared to the fleets of Cinnabar and the Alliance, and even so it was larger than it was efficient. Kostroma's captains and sailors were of excellent quality, but the merchant fleet took the greater-and the better-part of the personnel. Ratings in the Kostroman navy were largely foreigners; officers were generally men who preferred the high life in Kostroma City to hard voyaging; and the ships spent most of their time laid up with their ports sealed and their movable equipment warehoused, floating in a dammed lagoon south of the capital called the Navy Pool.
A starship was landing in the Floating Harbor. Daniel turned to watch, sliding the naval goggles down from his cap brim against the glare.
Starships took off and landed on water both because of the damage their plasma motors would do to solid ground and because water was an ideal reaction mass to be converted to plasma. Once out of a planet's atmosphere, ships used their High Drive, a matter/antimatter conversion process and far more efficient, but to switch to High Drive too early was to court disaster.
At one time Kostroma Harbor had served all traffic, but for the past generation only surface vessels used the city wharfs. The Floating Harbor built of hollow concrete pontoons accommodated the starships a half-mile offshore.
The pontoons were joined in hexagons that damped the waves generated by takeoffs and landings, isolating individual ships like larvae in the cells of a beehive. Seagoing lighters docked on the outer sides of the floats to deliver and receive cargo.
The ship landing just now was a small one of three hundred tons or so; a yacht, or more probably a government dispatch vessel. The masts folded along the hull indicated the plane on which Cassini Radiation drove the ship through sponge space was very large compared to the vessel's displacement.
The hull shape and the way two of the four High Drive nozzles were mounted on outriggers identified the ship as a product of the Pleasaunce system, the capital of the deceptively named Alliance of Free Stars. That was perfectly proper since the vessel was unarmed. Kostroma was neutral, trading with both parties to the conflict.
Kostroma's real value to combatants lay not with her navy but in her merchant fleet and extensive trading network to regions of the human diaspora where neither Cinnabar nor the Alliance had significant direct contact. Formally the Reciprocity Agreement granted Cinnabar only the right to land warships on Kostroma instead of staying ten light-minutes out like those of other nations.
As a matter of unofficial policy, however, neutral Kostroman vessels carried cargoes to Cinnabar but not to worlds of the Alliance. That was an advantage for which General Porra, Guarantor of the Alliance, would have given his left nut.
The dispatch vessel touched down in a vast gout of steam; the roar of landing arrived several seconds later as the cloud was already beginning to dissipate. Daniel raised his goggles and continued walking. A graceful bridge humped over a major canal; from the top of the arch Daniel glimpsed the roof of the Elector's Palace.
An Alliance dispatch vessel might mean Porra or his bureaucrats believed there was a realistic chance of detaching Kostroma from Cinnabar. Alternatively, the Alliance could simply be trying to raise the price Admiral Lasowski would finally agree to pay. Walter III would have invited an Alliance delegation as a bargaining chip even if Porra hadn't planned to send one on his own account.
Well, that was only technically a concern for Lt. Daniel Leary. As a practical matter, he was a tourist visiting a planet which provided a range of unfamiliar culture, architecture, and wildlife.
Whistling again, he strolled off the bridge and along the broad avenue leading toward the palace.
Adele Mundy stood in the doorway, fingering a lock of her short brown hair as she surveyed what was only in name the Library of the Elector of Kostroma. Adele was an organized person; she would organize even this. The difficulty was in knowing where to start.
The room was large and attractive in its way; ways, really, because whichever Elector had been responsible for the decoration had been catholic in his taste. Time had darkened the wood paneling from its original bleached pallor. The enormous stone hood of the fireplace was carved with a scene of hunting in forests that looked nothing like Kostroman vegetation, and blue-figured tiles formed the hearth itself. The knees supporting the coffered ceiling imitated gargoyles.
The last were a singularly inappropriate choice for the interior of a library. The notion of figures gaping to gargle rainwater onto Adele's collections made her shudder.
The chamber had probably been intended as a drawing room for Electoral gatherings smaller and more private than those in the enormous Grand Salon below on the second floor. There was quite a lot of space in terms of cubic feet since the ceiling was thirty feet above, but there would have to be a great deal of modification to make it usable for shelving books.
The modification was one of the problems Adele had been trying to surmount in the three weeks since she had arrived in Kostroma City to take up her appointment as the Electoral Librarian. One of many problems.
"Pardon, pardon!" a workman growled to Adele's back in a nasal Kostroman accent. She stepped sideways into the room, feeling her abdominal muscles tense in anger.
The man hadn't been impolite, technically: Adele was standing in the doorway through which he and his mate needed to carry a plank. But there was no hint in his tone that the off-planet librarian was his superior or, for that matter, anything but a pain in the neck.
A six-foot board wasn't much of a load for two people to carry, but even that wasn't why Adele became dizzy with frustration. That was a result of seeing the material, polished hardwood with a rich, swirling grain. It was probably as pretty a piece of lumber as she'd ever seen in her life.
Elector Jonathan Ignatius, Walter III's immediate predecessor, was a member of the Delfi clan and an enthusiastic hunter. Jonathan's absence on a six-month, multi-planet safari had permitted rivals in the Hajas and Zojira clans to prepare the coup that unseated him the night of his return.
Walter by contrast wanted to be remembered as a patron of learning, possibly because he had no more formal education than the Emperor Charlemagne. He'd decided to found an electoral library under the carefully neutral direction of a Cinnabar scholar living in exile on the Alliance world of Bryce. He'd assembled the contents of the library by the simple expedient of stripping books, papers, and electronic storage media from Delfi households and those of their collateral clans.
The loot-Adele couldn't think of another word to describe it-was piled here in a variety of boxes and crates. Most of them weren't marked, and she didn't trust the labels on those which had them. The only order in the library was the view out the north windows, onto the formal gardens.
What Adele needed to start-what she had requested as many times and in as many ways as she could imagine-was three thousand feet of rough shelving. What she was getting from the carpenters Walter's chamberlain had assigned to the project was cabinetry of a standard that would grace a formal dining room. At the present rate of progress, the job would be done sometime in the next century.
There was no doubt about the skill of the carpenters, these two journeymen and the master cabinetmaker who never left her shop on the ground floor and never touched a tool with her own hands that Adele had seen. They were simply the wrong people for the job. The twenty Kostroman library assistants whom Adele was to train to the standards of Cinnabar or the central worlds of the Alliance-these were with only a few exceptions the wrong people for any job.
Laughter boomed in the hallway. Adele sidled another step away from the door and put her straight back against the wall. The band of tile at neck level felt cool and helped keep her calm. Bracey, one of her assistants, entered with two other men whom Adele didn't recognize.
That didn't mean they weren't library assistants: the positions had been granted as political favors to relatives who needed jobs. The only blessing was that most of them, lazy scuts with neither ability nor interest in library work, didn't bother to show up. Those who did pilfered and damaged materials through careless disregard.
Bracey, a Zojira collateral, was one of those who often came to the library. Unfortunately.
The trio entered the room, passing a bottle among them.
Excerpted from With the Lightnings by David Drake Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
David Drake, an American science fiction and fantasy writer, is one of the major authors of the military science fiction genre. His books include the genre-defining and bestselling Hammer’s Slammers series, as well as the nationally bestselling RCN series and his classic novel Redliners, which he calls "possibly the best thing I’ve written." He is a Vietnam War veteran and worked as a lawyer before turning to writing full-time.
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