In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)


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A terrific premise. American archaeologist Jeremy Wainman journeys to Mars to explore the long-dead cities of the Deep Beyond, joined by Martian mercenary Teyud Zha-Zhalt, who is linked to the mysterious city where the last aging descendant of the Tollamune emperors resides. Convert currency. Add to Basket. Book Description Tor Science Fiction.

Condition: New. Over 1,, satisfied customers since ! We ship daily M-F. Choose expedited shipping if available for much faster delivery. Delivery confirmation on all US orders. Seller Inventory ZZN. More information about this seller Contact this seller. Book Description Tor Science Fiction , Mass Market Paperback. Seller Inventory XM Book Description Tor Science Fiction, Never used!. Seller Inventory P Brand New!. Seller Inventory VIB With only a few hundred personnel on the planet, the US-Commonwealth-Organization of American States base could afford to be very selective, but it was still difficult to find people who met all the other qualifications and were that tall.

Not only was Jeremy Wainman six-six, he had a fencer's physique, long-limbed and with a wiry muscularity; his face was handsome in a beak-nosed fashion that would last well after he passed his thirtieth year next April. His blue eyes and close-cropped darkbrown hair would be accepted as merely exotic. Make that sort of in English, Jeremy thought. The sounds were difficult for Martians. At least for speakers of Modern Demotic—the only spoken language on the planet, as far as they'd been able to discover, though there were different dialects.

Which simplified things considerably, since learning it made picking up Japanese look easy and Chinese a walk in the park. Christ, it's fun to get out and really use all that language training. Then the factor went on in his own tongue: "You have met the highly bred Professional Practitioner of Coercive Violence, Teyud za-Zhalt. Professional Practitioner of Coercive Violence covers cops, soldiers and bandits. Minds with a profound understanding of linguistics had been at work shaping Martian for a very long time.

All that in a hand gesture and three words, one of them a proper name. It's a bitch to learn, but I love this language! It's so The woman inclined her head slightly and laid her ears back, a gesture of respect to an employer or patron from someone equal in eugenic rank Her breed had been lords once.

Her voice was beautifully modulated, a little deeper than the normal Martian soprano; if a bronze bell had been precisely machined by computer-directed lasers, it would sound like that. And her accent was noticeably different from that of the spice merchant. Perhaps her diction is a bit And there's something about the way she handles sibilants, too.

Wait a minute—it's like the way the pillar-with-teeth spoke A dialect from some out of the way place that hasn't changed much? I've got to get to know her well enough to ask questions! Then she turned to him. May randomness produce positive outcomes for you in this period of endeavor, and malice be absent. Those centuries of experience and the Crimson Dynasty's inheritance gave him composure with Binkis, despite the On balance, I am content that I did not kill him when I found him in the Shrine. Binkis chuckled again. The pumps throbbed in the icy dimness of the great cavern; it had begun as a volcanic bubble, and been shaped to other purposes very long ago.

The sound of Binkis' amusement was lost among the harsh raw power of the sound, and there was a disturbing flicker to his light-colored eyes. He was six feet tall and lanky for his breed, which made him a little shorter than average and squat to Martian eyes. The Emperor was a foot taller, and mantis-gaunt by comparison. He has been touched by the things of the Most Ancient, and carried across space and time by them. Both these technologies are as crude as wooden spear hardened in a campfire by comparison.

He turned; it was one of the EastBloc diplomats Lin Yu-Pei. He had arrived in conventional wise; by what the vas-Terranan called nuclear rocket to orbit around Mars, and then by lander dropping on a tail of fire to the field at the Mountain's foot, where Sajir saTomond had allowed the EastBloc base to be erected. The diplomat was as diminutive as a De'ming and interestingly different from Binkis in physical type, but Sajir had found him clever enough despite first appearances.

Though now he is His mind now edits reality and does not perceive Binkis at all. And there were the guards in their insectile black armor, drifting like ghosts as they moved to keep the Tollamune, Sajir sa-Tomond the Two Hundredth and Twenty-Fifth, from any risk. A little further back, a knot of officials stood with their hands in the sleeves of robes gorgeous in red and purple, precious metals and jewels like banked embers, but cunningly patched and repaired, greateyed faces blank beneath round caps worked in filigree. The golden traceries of their headgear were rotten and blackened with age, the emblems of vanished provinces, of services that had once spanned the planet.

The air of the great, arched chamber was cold and faintly damp—sopping, to the Martians. Sajir sa-Tomond adopted a posture of permission, turning the palms of his hands forward and then back, and the functionaries glided forward, moving in the formal pacing that made their robes seem to slide across the pavement without a hint that legs and feet moved them rather than wheels.

Lin Yu-Pei was sweating; probably because of the incongruity between what his eyes were seeing and what the script implanted within his brain would let him perceive. But then, Terrans sweated so readily And the elderly of the Real World let their minds lose focus. Attention to the present, Sajir sa-Tomond! Even with the Tollamune genes and the finest antiagathics he was old, slimness turned gaunt, raven hair gone white, hawk-face deeply seamed with a mesh of wrinkles that moved and interlaced like cracks in spring ice among the northern seas.

The bleak golden eyes were hooded and pouched but keen. Sh'u Maz! Let harmony be sustained! Sajir sa-Tomond used it to calm himself as he considered: My reaction to Binkis is odd. Any of my people who addressed me so would be infected immediately with larvae of the most malignant breed. Yet I do not even resent the fact that I may not order it in his case. There is In the legends of the most ancient beginnings A fortunate randomness. Through him I may hope to recover the Ancient tembst; and even if I do not, his advice has enabled me to reverse the intent of the EastBloc Terrans that I be their puppet.

At his nod, High Minister Chinta sa-Rokis moved in a smooth arc and touched a finger cased in metal fretwork to a spot on one of the great crystal pipes that ran from floor to ceiling like pillars, a spot where a flow-gauge circled the clear tube. Her cap proclaimed her Supervisor of Planetary Water Control; in ancient days, that had been a post second only to the Commander of the Sword of the Dynasty in the planet's government. Currently, it meant managing the municipal works and the stretch of canals immediately adjacent to the Mountain.

Unlike most of the High Council, she still had some actual function. Flow has been steady for one hour, seven minutes, twenty-two seconds at the-" The words stopped and a brief pure tone rang out. Then the bureaucrat spoke, while the creature stared at the Emperor with what might have been curiosity A mere five or six decades without more fuel than that store which our allies of the Wet World have supplied; and the machinery itself is not self-reproducing or self-repairing, as our accustomed tembst is.

As the one tasked with maintaining the long-term supplies of water, I must— deferential mode—caution of the disruption which will arise among those dependent on the additional flow when it ceases in so brief a time. Nor was she the only one. He saw some of the others casting dumfounded glances at each other, and sighed inwardly. The idea might well never have occurred to him if Binkis had not suggested it, along with making the delivery of the reactor and spare fuel pellets a condition of EastBloc access to Dvor Il-Adazar's anti-agathics and anti-virals.

Aloud he continued, "The vaz-Terranan have only had this tembst a matter of fifty or sixty of their years, which are half the length of the Real World's. Prior to a similar number of our years, they were unaware of even the basic principles upon which this device functions. Surely we, with the principles in our minds, can expect our savants to duplicate the accomplishments of the Wet World?

In fact, I am not entirely confident. Our savants have merely recirculated known data for a very long time. The High Minister was capable, once prodded into action, but no more inclined to act on her own than a sessile-stage canal shrimp was to swim. Usually this was convenient; he could simply set her in motion in a chosen direction and then turn his attention elsewhere while she ran on rails like a cargo cart in a mine. When innovation was required, on the other hand And I myself am most unlikely to survive such a period at this point in my probable lifespan.

Odd, to foresee personal extinction from natural causes in so brief a time as a few decades. I must learn to hurry, as if I were once again heedless with youth. This is an inconvenience. So many problems resolve themselves spontaneously with a mere twenty or thirty years of patience. On the other hand, I must keep in mind that death from another's volition is possible at any point on one's personal world-line. There was only one possible public response to that.

The court of the Crimson King

The officials lifted fingertips to their temples, bowed their heads, and chanted in chorus: "King Beneath the Mountain! Crimson King, holding and swaying the Real World! But just as the portion of the Real World he in fact commanded was much smaller than theory suggested, so would they still conspire and intrigue with every breath they drew to bend his will to theirs.

The more so as he aged towards the ultimate limits and had no immediate heir. That, too, was a situation without precedent, but not one they seemed to find difficult to enter into their calculations. No heir save for her. And some of them realize with horror that if my plans succeed, they will have functional duties once more.

A balance is required. He was tempted to give the order for a mass Apology in any case, but their probable successors would be no more reliable, and far more energetic and hungry. Best to keep these for the present. Their underlings had had many years of waiting, which would keep the ministers looking both upward and downward.

Younger replacements would be positioned securely enough with their subordinates to look only towards him. The most advantageous circumstance of being at the summit is the added velocity of the downward kick; next, the fact that there is nobody above one to do the same He was rather obviously translating too literally from his native speech; he had been Ambassador for only a few years.

The attrition rate from incompatible proteins made the implantation risky with vazTerranan. The courtiers tensed very slightly, adopting postures of disassociation, implying that they were not present. The guards reacted in a more unambiguous fashion, touching weapons.

Communication beyond the basics required more than translation of words; modes of thought and perception embodied in the underlying syntax must be understood. Further, you did not use the metaphorical mode. Unnoticed by the Terran diplomat, the Expediter of Painful Transitions lowered the grub-implanter.

Lin jerked and stood stock still.

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Just below where his spine met his skull something glistened for a moment as it moved. I have matters to consider. Sajir saTomond gestured in a manner that meant anticipated reaction. Since Binkis was possibly possessed by the ancient entities, but was certainly a Terran with limited appreciation of the High Speech, he added aloud: "How long before they begin to suspect?

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Eventually the knowledge that a Terran who did not arrive by spaceship is at my court will reach them. Not all are suitably infected by the neural controller. The high rate of fatalities is an inconvenience; the new model is still prone to prompting severe allergic reactions. It will not matter if we can interface your ancestors' devices fully with the Terran powerplant, their numerically driven controllers, and also with their weapons. Reducing territory to toxic dust seems Force is always more effectively employed as threat than actuality; the greater the raw strength, the more this is so.

You will effectively dominate space near Mars. There remains the problem of the interface, though. New devices are required. Mere selective breeding, or even enzymatic recombinant splicing of the cellular mechanisms of existing machinery is not sufficient; my savants are definite and unanimous, and my own judgment is the same. The very mathematics are different, and require neural devices of novel types, incorporating the target algorithms. The theory needed to produce such is known; practical implementation of such ceased very long ago. The Tollamune genome will activate them.

He still longs for the repair of his consort, who arrived with him.

Oh no, there's been an error

The Terran woman was quite mad; only a form of synthetic hibernation had preserved her life this long. The Ancient-derived devices probably would suffice, if only it were possible to use them. He frowned thoughtfully before he spoke. They are very old, they have been used intensively without maintenance and as a result, they are My genes are correct; my endurance, however, has diminished to the point where further contact would endanger my life. The true secret, you do not know, nor shall you. He turned and left; etiquette did not require anything further for the Emperor, of course.

His back still crawled slightly, as if in anticipation of the knife or the needle Yet that is one of my most familiar sensations, he thought. I cannot recall a time beyond infancy when it was not chronic. We have preserved the consensual myth of the absolute authority of the Tollumune Throne for so long, yet was it ever more than literalized metaphor?

Not in the opinion of my ancestors, certainly. And most certainly, not since the loss of the Invisible Crown. The elevator was a bubble of warmth and color and light after the dank dimness of the pumping chamber. It had been repaired and resurfaced for his visit, and the murals were pleasantly pastoral; they showed small, four-legged creatures with silky fur and overlapping rows of teeth gamboling through reeds beside a lake while the tentacles of predatory invertebrates prepared attack. Idly, he wondered if the place still existed; probably not. The small creatures were extinct save for preserved genetic data, and so were the invertebrates except in derived weapon- and execution-forms.

The elevator began to hum quietly as it rose through the Tower of Harmonic Unity. The tune was soothing but a little banal, though it covered the quick panting of the engine as it worked the winch on the traveling chamber's roof. The ride was water-smooth otherwise; the engine had been replaced with a fresh budding as well, and the rails and wheels greased by lubricant crawler. The smooth efficiency was bitterly pleasant, as if he had fallen back through the ages, as if all Dvor Il-Adazar were so, drawing on the resources of a world.

When it stopped, he pressed a hand to a plate that was warm and slightly moist; it pulsed as it tasted him and identified the Imperial genome. When the door dilated and he walked through into his sanctum, the present returned on padding feet; murals ever so slightly faded One wall was glassine, as clear as ever and at the three-thousand-foot level. It showed the slopes of the western cliffs tumbling away below, carved into tower and dome, bridge and roadway, as far north and south as vision could reach.


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They had been wrought from living rock black and tawny and golden, but always framed in the blood-red that had given his lineage its name. Beyond stretched the Grand Canal that circled the huge volcanic cone and collected the water its height raked from the sky. On either side of the canal lay the greenish-red and blue-green of life, with here and there the soaring white pride of a magnate's villa.

Fliers drifted past, lean, crimson patrol-craft, diminutive yachts with fanciful paint, plain, fat-bodied freighters; riders mounted on Paiteng swooped and soared among them. Landships by the hundred waited by the docks, or sailed the ochre-colored turf of the passageways that led through the croplands to the deserts beyond. Behind him rose the Mountain itself, towering near seventy thousand feet above, through layers of garden and forest and glacier, and then on to the thin verges of space. If Dvor Il-Adazar was only a city-state now, it was at least the greatest that yet remained in the Real World If the empty ones were fewer than they had been in the year of his accession, then the credit was his, the long struggle against entropy.

A flick of a finger brought attendants who left essences and a bowl of smoldering stimulative and then withdrew. Sajir sa-Tomond sat in a lounger that adjusted to his frail length and began to administer warmth and massage. The room was neither very large nor very grand, except for the single block of red crystal shaped into a seat against the far wall; there was only one other like that in all existence, in the Hall of Received Submission.

He stared moodily at it as he sipped. The essence gave him the semblance of strength, and he closed his eyes for a moment to settle his mind. A game of atanj lay on a board before him, each piece carved from a single thumb-sized jewel or shaped from precious metal: ruby and jet for the Despots, black jade for the Clandestines, tourmaline for the Coercives, gold fretwork and diamond for the Boycotts.

Refresh yourself. You have not made a move today. When the Tollamune opened his own eyes once more, sorrow pierced him to the heart at the sight of the face beneath, the steady golden eyes and the bronze hair in its jeweled war-net. So like, so like The Thoughtful Grace moved immediately; a Transport leaping a Boycott to deliver a cargo.

Sajir thought. Daring, yet clever. I will not win this game in less than twenty-three moves now. The voice was different from hers, a little deeper, a little older—Vowin sa-Soj had been only fifty at the beginning of her long and bitter death. Notaj sa-Soj was her sire's youngest brother by another breeding partner, and at a century young for his post. His eugenic qualifications were impeccable, and his record of action matched it.

With me, the Crimson Dynasty ends, after eighteen thousand years of the Real World, and all hope of restoring Sh'u Maz in its true form. With you will perish the significance of our existence and such meaning as sentience has imposed on mere event. There is little consolation in it, but the line of the Kings Beneath the Mountain will at least end with a superior individual.

Despite everything, Sajir sa-Tomond felt himself smile at the harmonics that underlay the flat statement. The voice of a Thoughtful Grace purebred could rarely be read for undertone Their breed had been selected for wit, not merely deadliness. They had been generals and commanders once, as well as matchless Coercives on a personal level. The implications and possibilities needed little restating.

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Concealed here until relatively recently. When she matured, traces of the Tollamune inheritance became unmistakable. But now, perhaps, the balance of forces allows If she had waited longer to make herself receptive to fertilization, as I instructed But you of the Thoughtful Grace are And there was doubt as to my own survival at the time. The arrival of the vas-Terranan machines disturbed a most delicate balance. And genetically ambitious. To bear the first outcross of the Tollamune line in ten millennia Such pride was worthy of eugenic elevation.

We of the Dynasty have hugged our seed too close, to the detriment of Sh'u Maz. Too many Emperors had died at the hands of their own close kin for any to forget it. So their numbers had dwindled across the millennia and their own long lifespans. As have the water and atmosphere of the Real World itself, Sajir thought. This is a congruity far too apt for comfort.

Those disaffected elements content to wait now for their chance would act precipitately in that hypothesis. Therefore the heir must be found, brought to Dvor Il-Adazar, and put in an unassailable position. Those who wish to kill or capture her—" "Capture her? Sajir sa-Tomond moved a hand in a gentle curve that covered his words in a glow of affection: "The offspring was female. And there is the vas-Terranan to be considered. There are implications of possession of the Tollamune genome that you do not know; suffice it to say that the Terran requires access to the genome.

Prince Heltaw sa-Veynau, for example, wishing to rule through a puppet and gain access to the Tollamune genome. Possibly others, but certainly him. Unfortunately, he is necessary to my purposes. And I very much depreciate the high-probability consequences of his no longer needing me. Then the man halted and turned in the doorway, his eyes going to the atanj board. His loyalty is absolute, though intelligent and independent, the Tollamune thought.

And now I have activated his own lineage ambitions. He will operate at maximum efficiency. To promote this is to sustain harmony. With a sigh he rose from the recliner and walked to the crystal throne. Eddies moved within the dense redness of it, like wings of gauze. He gave a complex shiver as he sat, resting his head against the recess behind it and feeling the featherlight pressure against the scar on his neck, then a slight sting.

Exterior reality vanished. A murmur as of distant hive-insects seemed to fill his skull, but it was no mere vibration of the air. An inexpressible sensation of draining, as his recent memories joined those of all his life, and of the lineage of the Crimson Dynasty and their consorts since the beginning. Visions: death, birth, love, hate, accomplishment and cruelty, glory and despair. The bowed heads of ancient kings kneeling before the First Emperor; the feel of his own blood pouring out over the crystal, and the knives in the hands of kin.

The temptation to lose himself in that endless sea was strong and bitter, as strong as the taste of tokmar; he knew that, for a memory of it was here—not his, many generations removed, but as real as the weary weight of his own bones. Then I will fight for the child of our union, until we are united once more. By the early nineteenth century, astronomers such as Herschel and Schroeter had determined the size, axial inclination, and seasons of the red planet.

The presence of polar ice caps and the distinct yearly changes in their dimensions argued for a basically Earthlike world. Over the next two generations, several other features were discovered, among them the Hourglass Sea, and the seasonal fluctuations in ice cover on the North Polar Sea. The Jesuit scholar Angelo Secchi, director of the observatory of the Collegio Romano in Rome, conclusively proved the existence of continents and seas during the opposition of , a result confirmed by the British astronomer William Rutter Davies in The investigations of Giovanni Schiaparelli in the next thirty years discovered and began the mapping of the Martian canals.

These were extended and refined by the American Percival Lowell, beginning with his Arizona expedition for the opposition of , and confirmed by E. Antoniadi in the same period. Lowell also made the first relatively accurate calculation of the density of the Martian atmosphere; the first positive though still ambiguous and disputed evidence of oxygen and water vapor was discovered by Walter S.

Adams and Theodore Dunham, who attached a spectroscope to the inch reflector at Mt. Wilson Observatory in the 's. Conclusive proof that Mars had an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere similar to Earth's, though somewhat less massive, was produced by Gerard Peter Kuiper at the McDonald Observatory in Texas in Since it was now widely appreciated that free oxygen can only be a by-product of biological action, this evidence removed the last serious objections to Lowell's theory that the canals were a product of intelligent design, and created intense worldwide interest Jeremy Wainman grinned to himself as they followed the two Martians towards the Alliance consulate.

Most people his age knew what a Martian city looked like, but Or they think they do. They haven't lived it. I hadn't, until now. They haven't felt it or smelled it. He'd been born near Los Alamos, New Mexico, and raised there and points south before being selected for the Academy in Colorado Springs.

Zar-tu-kan reminded him of Sedona, down in Arizona—if you could imagine the colored buttes and cliffs as made by hands and minds, rather than by eroding wind and sand. Those forces had smoothed and rounded here too, until every sharp edge had blurred; the streets of Zar-tu-kan felt like random alleyways laid out by the wanderings of ancient Martian burros through a maze of low cliffs stippled in a faded rainbow of colors.

In the Courts of the Crimson Kings

They weren't; computer analysis had shown subtle planning, something like the deep patterns you got in a fractal The tall, blank walls of melted-looking stone on either side were mostly close, but they waved and curved like frozen water, usually giving you a place to step aside when a caravan of tall, spindly, hairy beasts laden with huge pack-saddles went by, or a rider mounted on a rakza, something that might have been a big ostrich, except for the thick neck and massive hooked beak.

The rakza screeched and shook its head as a wagon blocked its path for a moment, flicking up the crest of green-gold feathers on its long skull, until the rider gave a sharp tug on the reins. A pair of patrollers paused at the sound; they rode on self-propelled unicycles, with dart-rifles slung over their backs and helmets with eyes on stalks peering rearward, ready to warn their masters of attack.

When they saw the incident would die of its own accord, they leaned forward and pedaled, swaying and turning to weave through the traffic. Now and then they passed a doorway, which might be blank or elaborately carved wood with the sinuous glyphs the Crimson Dynasty had made the planet's standard script, or cast with designs in imperishable frosted crystal, sometimes in styles so old that the Martians themselves had forgotten what they meant.

Zar-tu-kan had been a city before the Kings Beneath the Mountains began their rise half a world away. Fine lines showed against the sky, where anti-bird nets strung between the upper stories made sure no migrating predators would drop in for a snack. Most of the passers-by were natives of the city or its dependent territories, with their hair in elaborate coils to denote occupation and status, and vertical stripes on their robes—farmer, smith, artisan, soldier, clerk, and occupations that had no precise Terran equivalent.

A scattering were from much further away: Highlanders even more eerily elongated than the standard Martians and barrel-chested, goggles over their eyes, Wai Zang mercenaries in glittering black armor and visors with the faceted eyes of insects, and students in carved masks abstract or whimsical or bestial, come to study at the Scholarium. Sometimes the alleys opened out into an oblong space surrounded by shops and service-trades, their clear, glassine windows showing their wares. Atanj-players looked up from their boards and spheres of essence as the Terrans walked by—and it wasn't easy to pry a Martian loose from their equivalent of chess.

Shoppers looked up too. And I wouldn't mind shopping here, Jeremy thought. Usually he was bored stiff by it, but that was in the hypermarkets back home. Flaps of artfully arranged rooz meat looked a little like beef; red-purple canal shrimp swam in globular bowls and huddled back in tight knots when a storekeeper dipped a net in their tank; there were piles of mysterious vegetables and others of breads like fluffy pancakes And there were other merchants with fabrics, weapons, tools, jewelry, animals of scores of specialized uses, the Martian books with their narrow pages bound at the tops Fliers passed by overhead; towers reared impossible heights into the pink-blue sky like skyscrapers in Manhattan, and above it all, the two small moons passed like rapid stars.

It was nearly twenty years since the first Terrans had come out of the desert to the city, but they still attracted a fair bit of attention —though only the children showed it openly. They ranged from knee-high to almost grown, and the younger ones gaped and pointed and gave peals of shrill laughter. They were playing a game much like atanj, but with themselves for pieces.

When the commander of one team maneuvered two of his pieces onto a single one of the other side, they gleefully pummeled each other. Atanj was supposed to be an analogue of war, like chess, but they took that more literally here. He—probably he, it was hard to tell when everyone was muffled up, and anyway Martians were less sexually dimorphic than Terrans—continued to bend for ammunition. Teyud wheeled to face him and flicked her right hand. Something like a small disk with curled spikes along its edge appeared between finger and thumb, and her hand cocked back with lazy grace.

The atanj teams dove out of the way, squealing. Jeremy thought. Let's not let things get out of hand! He tensed his leg muscles and jumped. The results sent the little almost-mob of nearly-adolescents scattering, as he soared through the air as if launched by a hydraulic catapult. Twisting, he landed in front of the fleeing would-be dung-thrower, forcing him to backpedal furiously and nearly drop on his butt to stop.

The boy's eyes were bulging with surprise through the slit in his headdress. Jeremy didn't give him any time to recover, or to go for the various unpleasant devices undoubtedly concealed under his ragged robe. One hand gripped the back of his neck, the other at his belt, and the Terran pivoted and threw.

He'd had six months practice with Martian gravity. The boy flew ten yards, arms and legs kicking, to land neatly in a two-wheeled cart filled with the droppings of various draught-beasts. Those were a lot drier and fluffier than their Earthly equivalents; a big cloud of pungent brownish dust shot skyward. The boy tumbled out of it a few moments later, coughing and retching and beating at his garments. He stopped a moment to make three comprehensively obscene gestures at Jeremy, then took to his heels. For the rest, the crowds' reaction was sidelong glances and low murmurs—and they were low indeed, pitched for the more efficient ears evolved in this thin air.

You know, Jeremy thought, watching as Teyud za-Zhalt swayed along ahead of them, She really moves beautifully. Different from most Martians—she doesn't give you that sense she'd fly away in a high breeze, even though shedoes look like someone took her by the neck and ankles and stretched her by about twenty percent. They came to a larger open space. One side of it was semicircular, a smooth olive-green wall twenty feet high that vanished behind buildings on either side and that he knew made a circle over a mile around.

Above that rose a glassine dome, and through it, he could see the tops of trees. A central tower reared gigantic in its center, but the fliers clustered around its thousand-foot peak were all warcraft in the red and black markings of the Despotate, the local government. Traffic was brisk over the russetcolored pavement, save where they swerved around a crew at work repairing a worn section.

Several De'ming shoveled crushed rock from a wagon into the maws of creatures like twelve-foot furry bricks with stubby legs and flat paddle-like scaly tails. A third of their length was mouth, studded with dozens of thick square black teeth around a muscular purple tongue. They caught the gravel and began to crunch it down with every sign of enjoyment; the sound was like a man eating celery, but a thousand times louder and with a metallic overtone. Some had already been fed, and lay on their bellies with an occasional contented belch. A circle of children crouched to watch and giggled with disgusted delight as the animals turned and projectilevomited into the hole in the pavement in unison.

A thick, vile, sour-smelling yellow sludge filled the hole, and the beasts turned at the foreman's urging and smoothed it flat with their tails. By the time the Terrans and their guides walked by, the surface was already hardening and turning a slightly lighter shade of reddish-brown than the rest as the crew moved on to the next gap. Sally said. Then he looked at her. Above it was a symbol that looked like a figure eight laid on its side, surrounded by a glyph in the High Speech of ancient times.

Sh'u Maz: Sustained Harmony, from time out of mind the motto of anyone who wished to claim the status of Acknowledged Ruler. A much smaller portal accommodated the real traffic. The guards beside it carried swords and dartpistols, and one of them held a beast on a leash. It looked a little like a dog, perhaps a starved, elongated greyhound with teeth like a shark and a high forehead and disturbingly versatile paws. All four of the party stood while it approached and sniffed them over. Sally and Jeremy turned and shook hands.

Genomic Prince Heltaw sa-Veynau watched the children running silently through the gardens beneath the dome, weaving in among tall, slender trees whose trunks bore masses of flowering vines, their blooms trumpets of orange and crimson and purple-striped white. The thick, dense mat of vegetation beneath their feet was soft ochre fibers, a strain that had once been nearly as common as atmosphere plant, but which in these times was rare far from the Mountain. The mountainside bowl that cupped the palace gardens rose beyond and all around, parts left rough in the native reddish tufa veined with black and gold, others carved in the fanciful elongated animal style common in the Orchid Consort Period, eight thousand years ago.

A small fountain burbled within a column of glassine, and birds like flying jewels trilled the songs for which his remote ancestors had designed them. He had followed his customary program before making important decisions: a light breakfast, a bout of sword practice with his trainer, para-reproductive coitus with his partner, and a period of nonreflective contemplation. Now it was very restful to lie here as the recliner gently massaged his back and smell the wadar incense and watch the children at play under the careful eye of their nannydog; they were his sister's offspring, and he had none of his own Or a hundred and twenty, as the Wet Worlders reckon it, he thought; they had been much on his mind of late.

Reproduction, in my position, would have been evidence of unseemly presumption, or, to phrase the matter more bluntly, suicidal. The captain of his guards waited, taking knee as court slang had it—on his right knee, with the scabbard of his sword in his gloved left hand, and the right on his left thigh. His personal Coercives wore black robe and hood, and unmarked harness; he believed it conveyed a sense of disciplined seriousness, in contrast to the ironic detachment or frivolous archaism so common here in the City That Was A Mountain. The Emperor is among the most skillful practitioners of waiting the Crimson Dynasty has ever produced.

So skillful that it is never entirely certain that he is, in fact, waiting and not merely mired in sloth and resignation. To himself, You are perceptive. Perhaps troublingly so? No, merely competent. It will give those who might otherwise hasten the succession pause for thought, and give credence to his claim to restore Sustained Harmony. Sh'u Maz is impossible where succession is not clear. Leaving aside capacity, surely he would not be in a position to socialize an heir to maturity.

This person is not at all as she appears. Heltaw approved; the man would be useless if he required long explanations. Kill only if essential to prevent escape. Keep a full sustainment kit ready to prolong the life of a reproductive sump of the body if killing is necessary, or at the very least to preserve viable ova. This is a formidable individual; take all precautions. Also, at least two other groups will be seeking to preempt you. When you strike, strike swiftly. You are, of course, not the only resource tasked with this mission. It is the reproductive organs that are my optimum target, preferably attached to a living body.

Hence, I have let it be known that a larger reward is available for a capture in order to present disincentives for entrepreneurial activity contrary to my interests.


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I cannot, of course, prevent freelance individuals and groups from contesting the matter. As you order, we will endeavor most earnestly to accomplish—subject to event and randomness. The time for patience would soon end, but until then The Prince smiled slightly to himself as one of his nieces stood, laughing at the half-dozen birds that perched on her slender arms and sang counterpoint to each other. Until then I must be patient. Or my lineage will die to the seventh degree. That was as far as the Expeditors could push a purge; he was in the eighth degree from the Ruby Throne himself.

Officially, there was none closer. His ears cocked forward as he turned his head towards her. It could be compulsive suspicion By relays of very skilled operatives. Losing the profits of their trade would grieve me to the point of melancholy. It was an unpleasant and surprising speculation, but not one that could be disregarded. Randomness has a fortunate configuration in that case; I will be voyaging to the Deep Beyond with the vaz-Terranan. One can see a menace more clearly away from a city's crowds. Sally Yamashita was indeed very strange-looking, at one moment like a dwarf, at another like an aged child.

Jeremy Wainman, on the other hand One could very nearly call him handsome. And he has a pleasantly effervescent personality. It did duty for the Commonwealth and OAS countries and Japan as well; their flags flew over its front entrance. It wasn't particularly large, about the size of the White House, and like most buildings under the dome it was built in a light, airy style in total contrast to the blank massiveness of most of Zar-Tu-Kan outside, all tall slender columns and translucent window-doors and balconies.

Robert Holmegard and his wife Dolores, who was also his assistant and a biologist of note, gave dinner for the explorers on a balcony of clear crystal supported by two curving braces of the same material shaped like slender snakes, nerve-wrackingly fragile-seeming if you didn't know the strength of the stuff. To the stomach it was still nerve-wracking, particularly since it was sixty feet to the tough reddishgreen sward that made up the roadway below. Even in one-third gravity that was a long way.

I know there were storms, but Storms didn't begin to describe what the Martian polar winter was like—and seasons lasted twice as long on this planet. Sometimes more, if you were unlucky enough to be in the hemisphere that got the downside of the eccentric orbit that time 'round. It gave you a lot of time to brush up on your research and perfect your game of atanj—though no Terran had yet become more than mediocre at it.

The screen came alive and showed two children of twelve and ten, their looks halfway between Robert Holmgard's hulking blond Minnesota-Swede and his wife's dark Peruvian-Spanish delicacy. Jeremy paid attention to the entertainment while they listened to the message: Not far away a bird the size of a six-year-old sat on a perch and sang a song with a haunting minor-key melody, now and then making sounds like wind-chimes to accompany itself, and moving wings like living Tiffany glass in time to the music it made.

That had been tried once, and had failed at hideous expense—there were limits to what the USASF budget could bear, especially now that the first flush of wonder had worn off and the voters weren't quite so enchanted with pouring tens of billions yearly into space. And the peculiarities of the Martian atmosphere limited wireless bandwidth. The Holmgards tore themselves away from their children's disk with commendable speed and devoted themselves to their hostly duties.

Jeremy speared a strip of grilled rooz and nibbled it; despite the fact that it came from a bird—more or less—it didn't taste at all like chicken. A bit like beef, a bit like pork with a soupcon of shrimp, meltingly tender and spiced with something that tasted like a cross between garlic and chili with a hint of flowers. There was a heat to it that hit you after a moment of hesitation, like slow-motion napalm. Although it's better not to remember it's cooked over dung fires, he thought, taking a drink of water that had a slightly metallic taste.

Granted, the animal in question essentially shat thumb-sized pieces of pure charcoal, but the thought was still a bit off-putting if you dwelt on it. He touched the screen with fingers that were thick, muscular and nimble. A map of Mars sprang up, then narrowed down to the section around Zar-tu-Kan; it was the product of satellite photography combined with local knowledge. But that's bad country—dust storms, nomads, God-knows-what. Keep in close touch. Even the atmosphere plant dies out there sometimes. That low-growing, waxy-leaved plant was the Martian equivalent of grass It had a fantastically efficient version of photosynthesis, grew nearly everywhere, and stood at the bottom of nearly every food chain.

An area too hostile for it was likely to be bleak indeed, even by this dying planet's standards. Holmgard poured essence into their cups. The purple liquid glowed faintly as it made a graceful lowgravity arc, with motes moving within it. Stars shone many and very bright through the dome above, making the mild springlike temperature—tropical warmth to Martians—seem like the small bubble of life it was, in a universe coldly inimical.

The gasbags of floatlights shone as well, a light cooler than electrics and tinged with red, circling the building as they sculled themselves along with feathered limbs. Things rustled and clicked in the dense groves and gardens that separated the mansions and palaces of Zar-tu-Kan's inner zone. The air was slightly cool, just enough to leave a rime of frost on exposed stone, and the din and clatter of the port sounded sharp through it. The landship was a sixty-footer with a central hold and two internal decks fore and aft; a hundred and fifty tons burden, which made her medium-sized.

Old but sound, with a single hundred-foot mast and an auxiliary engine that could supply enough hydraulic pressure to the rear axle motors to move the craft at better than walking pace in a pinch. The layout was standard for a vessel of her size, with one fixed axle at the rear, another amidships and a longer pivoting one forward. Axles, mast and spars were single-crystal growths; unfortunately there was no way of telling how old they were—the slight yellowish tinge to the clear flexible material simply meant that they weren't new.

They could be a hundred years from the plantations and good for another thousand, or a thousand and likely to go to dust at any moment. Bearings, cables and sails all looked reliable, and there was a good ring-mounted darter on the quarterdeck. The crew She grimaced very slightly at the score of them: a collection of scar-faced toughs, tokmar addicts with a faint quiver to their hands, and obvious lowbreeds.

One was nearly noseless, with nasal slits that closed and opened nervously, and he had a russet-brown hue to his skin, some sort of hybrid from the deep deserts. They stood waiting, a few working on their personal gear or playing atanj, while De'ming trotted from the stone wharf across the boarding rams to stow bundles of dried meat and asu-fruit, ceramic casks of pickled eggs, ammunition and gun-food, spare cable and stores of a dozen kinds down to glow-rods and blood-builders.

Half a dozen of the little sub-sapient laborers went and squatted on the foredeck when the loading was finished; she'd bought those for the usual tasks. Ordinary workers attached a hose to fill the tanks; this district had a water tower and pressure in the mains. Several of the crew came more erect as they felt her gaze. She knew that a yellow-eyed stare was disconcerting. Old legends spoke of it.

Others remained dully indifferent, and one kept chewing on a kevaut on a stick he'd bought from a vendor with a portable grill, spitting out bits of carapace as he sucked out the last shreds of flesh. She was short as well, a full foot shorter than Teyud's seven-foot-two. Shaking her head, she went on, "But it's of a good local budding strain, it doesn't cough or have the runs, the tentacles are well-bonded to the cranks, and it's been adequately fed and the sludge-tanks are full. As long as we eat and our bowels function, it won't starve.

I'd rather replace the drive-train gearing and put new bearing-races on all axles before starting a long trip, but all should function for the next few months. Zelzhau didn't try to cheat us. Even more extraordinary, this Baid tu-Or seems to know her work. I wonder why she wants to get out of Zar-tu-Kan badly enough to sign with us.

At least she will probably play an acceptable game; I have yet to meet one of the vazTerranan worth setting up the board for. A little reassured, she checked that all six of the addicts had sufficient tokmar to last out the trip; of all the fates available, being trapped in the wilds with a tokmar sniffer deprived of his or her daily dose was one of the least attractive. One didn't have enough, and asked for an advance to buy; she simply let her hand fall to the hilt of her dart pistol and looked at him until he shuffled off.

That one didn't have much longer to live. The tremor was turning into jerks, and the mental effects of his habit had obviously gotten beyond the point of mere recklessness—nobody but the reckless would have signed up for this cruise—to outright loss of survival instinct.

Do you? Maintain an attitude of terrified submission and harmony will be sustained. Suddri, Xax, Taldus, crew the darter. The rest of you, on board and to your stations, make ready to depart. Show speed! The Traveler was at the last of the docks that still saw regular use; beyond to the south was a tumble of wharfs half-buried in drifted soil with a sparse cover of atmosphere plant, and a wilderness of broken-roofed buildings eroded to snags by wind and abraiding sand.

The tops of actual trees showed there—the ruins would concentrate stray moisture. Northward, every second slip was occupied, and a big three-master was in the graving dock, with the planking off its hull and artificers crawling about within. A crane extended a tentacle as she watched, hoisting some massive fabrication out of the structure and onto a repair platform.

She kept an ear cocked backward; the sounds indicated the scratch crew had some idea of what they were doing. Her eyes narrowed at two craft that had stayed at anchor out on the plain. They were long and low, a bit bigger than the Traveler, and lay quietly with furled sails. The hulls had few openings and no walkways or balconies, and all the hatches were closed. Not local, by the lines, she thought, then shrugged. Trade from all around the planet found its way here.

The vaz-Terranan arrived, with their surprisingly scanty baggage. This voyage will be both profitable and an interlude of respite from boredom, she told herself.

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The life of an exile is irritatingly lacking in long-term goals. She had dreams enough: what she would do if she sat the Ruby Throne, for example. That was about as likely as a trip to the Wet World. Though with her broader experience of how the Real World fared The taller Terran smiled. His face was rough, as if hewn from rock by a not-very-skilled sculptor who used a percussive method, but oddly engaging, even intriguing in its open mobility.

Teyud allowed her lips to turn up very slightly. High Minister Chinta sa-Rokis sighed in exasperation. The listeners were all members of the High Council. They sat in recliners around a black-jade table, their postures of informal-communication, as one did with social equals. If you looked very closely, you realized that the seemingly solid block had been carved until it was as insubstantial as lace in a pattern of repeating fractals that could hypnotize the unwary.

The essence in the globes each held was of an antique pungency and swam with a living culture that guaranteed vividly entertaining—or terrifying—dreams to the user. The floor was a slab of living honey-colored wood whose rippling grain responded to body warmth by exuding a pleasant scent. Rugs crawled to envelop the feet of the four officials, warming and gently caressing. By contrast, the heroic murals on seven of the eight walls were boringly antique, depicting the semilegendary construction of the Grand Canal in the early years of the Dynasty.

Their very age guaranteed that the Minster must endure them, however, and since they celebrated a notable Imperial accomplishment, modification might be taken as a gesture of disrespect. Nobody else was present, except for a brace of her personal De'ming The glassine eighth wall looked over nothing but empty courts until the farmlands at the city's foot, and her personal Coercives manned the towers between.

The silence stretched. All of the other High Councilors she had invited for private consultation were, in Chinta's opinion, nitwits, though not in any technical sense. Their minds had rotted from disuse. One was obsessed with collating an encyclopedia of the poetry of the Terminal Lilly Period; another spent nearly every waking hour on the records of atanj tournaments without being more than a mediocre player herself; the third provided an essential source of valuata for the city's more expert commercial specialists in para-reproductive entertainment.

I despise them all, she thought. Ironic, that this makes them the most suitable to my purposes. I may take consolation that I also further Prince Heltaw's purposes And hence to fear. The three High Ministers' accumulated resources and the influence of their lineages, however, were far from contemptible. And besides that, they all shared genetic linkages with her, common among the bloodlines of the upper bureaucracy. Competitive examination for office had been the rule since earliest Imperial times, but you could breed for success in that no less than for any other quality.

If you did so and hoarded your genome strictly, you could expect a practical monopoly. True, there will be benefits—but the benefits will accrue to individuals either not yet born or to those presented with new opportunities. The costs will be immediate and to established interests—which is to say, to us and our client lineages. First and foremost, the value of the water allocations to our properties will be depressed at once as prices decline. Aloud: "Since the water will be available now, and the added plantations, manufacturing facilities, biomass and population will take some time to appear, the fall in prices will be extreme.

Perhaps as much as a third; at least one quarter within ten years of this date. Since we are not likely to command all the eventual increase in production—it will accrue to the Ruby Throne's chosen clients, of course—the ripple effects will be similar even when the price of allocations stabilizes with higher net use. Overall equilibrium will not be reestablished for generations and when it is, we and our offspring will be at a relatively lower position in the economic hierarchy.

Chinta went on, "And you all heard the Tollamune's will: We must begin a program to copy the tembst of the Wet Worlders. Chinta spread her arms out to either side with fingers spread, and widened her gaze for a moment as she stared upward: horrified negation. It is the tragedy of our age that there is no heir to the King Beneath the Mountain Even if he were to use one of the stored ova Considering Heltaw's own age—which promised a reign of at least a century, given the probable maximum lifespan of the current Emperor—and then the likely disposition of an heir socialized under that very conservative Genomic Prince's supervision Subtle sabotage had been one of the weapons in the last Dynastic Intervention, and they had been in storage for over two hundred years of the Real World in any case.

In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2) In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2) In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2) In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2) In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2) In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2) In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2) In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2) In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)
In the Courts of the Crimson Kings (The Lords of Creation, Book 2)

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