Excerpt: Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald

Courtesy of the awesome folks at PYR, I have an excerpt of EMPRESS OF THE SUN by Ian McDonald to share with you! EMPRESS OF THE SUN is the 3rd book in the Everness series and will bout out on Feb. 4th.


empressofthesunCharlotte Villiers drew on tight calfskin gloves as she surveyed London from the thirty-second-floor window of the Tyrone Tower. Snow crowned the angels that stood atop the Gothic skyscrapers. Snow draped cloaks and capes and stoles around the shoulders of the crouching lions and griffons and mythological beasts that gazed down from the tower tops onto the bustling streets. Snow sheeted from the hulls of the airships as they cast off from the great iron tower of Sadler’s wells skyport and turned onto their flight paths. Snow on train roofs made them winding snakes, slinking along their elevated lines. Snow piled in drifts and banks at the sides of the streets, far far below, burying bicycles and rubbish bins and electricity charge points that would not return until a thaw. Snow trodden to treacherous ice slicks on the walkways, citizens tripping and tottering in tiny, nervous steps, coat collars turned up and hats pulled down, breath steaming.

“I’m sick of winter. Could we not for once move the Praesidium somewhere warm?”

Charles Villiers, Charlotte Villiers’s alter and Plenipotentiary from Earth 4, lifted a forefinger to Charlotte Villiers’s cigarette in its ivory holder. A flame lit from his fingertip. Charlotte Villiers winced in distaste. Thryn technology, of course, but the Thryn would never have designed anything so crass. Restrained. Poised. Enigmatic. Charlotte Villiers admired the Thryn much more than the humans of Earth 4, her alter included. Earth 4 had glutted itself on Thryn technology so greedily that its people had not developed a technology or made a scientific discovery of their own in thirty years. They were addicts. Charlotte Villiers despised addiction. It was a vile weakness, whether alcohol, narcotics, sex, power, or alien technology.

“Earth 8 is pleasant in its northern hemisphere at this time of year, my cora.”

“Earth 8 is an ecological wreck with runaway greenhouse effect,” Charlotte Villiers snapped. “I do not suit favela chic.” She pulled the fur stole tight around her neck, not because of the cold beyond the window but because of her alter’s use of the word cora. Earth 5 had given the Plenitude the terms of familiarity and endearment between alters—a twin in a parallel universe, closer than siblings or lovers; you, but so very, deeply, completely not you. Hearing the word on her alter’s lips made Charlotte Villiers shiver. She frequently wondered how Charles could be her alter at all. He was in no way her intellectual equal. And so childishly simple to manipulate. He was her coro in name only. Out of all her fellow Plenipotentiaries, she respected only the Earth 7 conjoint Jen-Heer-Fol and Ibrim Hoj Kerrim. The Earth 2 Plenipotentiary might not possess her sheer edge of cold intellect, but he was a consummate diplomat and politician in a world where those were so often contradictory qualities. She had almost betrayed her hand to him once, in the heat of action, when she had seen that Everett Singh intended to send himself through the Earth 10 Heisen-berg Gate, and she had pulled a gun on him. She had talked her way out of the incident, but Ibrim Hoj Kerrim was wily, graceful, and completely incorruptible. It would require her very sharpest, cleanest, most deadly plan to neutralize him in the Praesidium. But she had no doubt that she would succeed. Her only equal, the only one to best her, time and again, was her enemy, Everett Singh. Her enemy, her prey. In the end, you will give me what I desire, with your own hand. Let us match my will to your wits, Everett Singh. Char-lotte Villiers took a draw on her cigarette, breathed a coil of smoke into the air.

A knock at the door.

“Enter.”

A bellboy in the high-collared, embroidered jacket of the Service Corps entered and clicked his heels respectfully.

“These are diplomatic boxes you want transported, Excellency?”

“They are, Lewis,” Charlotte Villiers said.

“Shall I move them all or are there any you wish to take personally?”

“I trust you, Lewis. I will be carrying personal effects only.”

“We will have everything prepared for you.”

“Thank you, Lewis.”

Every six months the Praesidium of the Plenitude of Known worlds rotated to a new parallel Earth. The theory was that doing so would promote equality and democracy. Charlotte Villiers considered it a sop to political correctness. She would have been quite happy to have a permanent headquarters on Earth 2—the weather was good, the shopping excellent, the clothing and cuisine outstanding—or even Earth 5: those horses and carriages, and the elegant, well-proportioned architecture and fashion, were graceful and picturesque. The settling in was tedious and disruptive, even if she could commute home to Earth 3 by Heisenberg Gate. Charlotte Villiers had endured four moves since ascending to the Plenipotentiate and it still seemed that no sooner were all the files unzipped and shelved than it was time to zip them, box them, and ship them on again.

“I shall have to brush up my Anglische,” she said. “It’s such an ugly language. It sounds like retching.”

“You want one of these, cora,” Charles Villiers said. He opened his hand to show a thumb-nail-sized chip. “It comes with a special frame; you wear it like a pair of glasses. Beams the language into the back of your eye. Brilliant.”

“Call me old fashioned, but I prefer not to have a language burned into my forebrain by some memory chip.” The idea of someone else’s voice, words, thoughts in her had filled her with disgust. Charlotte Villiers’s brain was guarded, untouchable, entirely her own. Dark secrets were locked within. “Anything from the tracker?” She had sent her agent, Everett Singh’s Earth 4 alter, on a highly illegal Heisenberg jump to the forbidden plane of Earth 1 to plant a quantum tracking device on the airship Everness. He had been sent with one of the Thryn Sentiency’s most powerful personal combat units. He had come back with nothing but a suit liner and a backpack.
Charles Villiers checked his mobile phone.

“No data yet.”

“Are you sure it’s working?” Charlotte Villiers asked.

“It’s Thryn,” her alter said. “It’s infallible.”

Charlotte Villiers raised an eyebrow. Earth 4ers were so trusting of their technology. Charlotte Villiers preferred working with people. Especially people she could manipulate or threaten. Scared people were trustworthy.

“Has he even planted the thing?” He could have ditched everything—Thryn battle suit, hedgehoppers, tracker—and run for home at the first sight of the Nahn. Charlotte Villiers knew enough of the nanotech plague that had engulfed Earth 1 to have doubts about her bravery in the face of the Nahn. Invading you, dissolving you, incorporating you, taking your body, your mind, smelting them into an alloy of all the others it had absorbed: the Nahn was the same horror as the Earth 2 language implants, a thousand times magnified. The Nahn was violation.

“He says he has,” Charles Villiers said.

“There are liars, gross liars, and fourteen-year-old boys,” Charlotte Villiers said. “But I still have his family. His real family.”

***
Overnight the snow had melted into the endless wet grey of January. Everett M. Singh looked out at the procession of car headlights in the morning gloom as the Roding Road schoolrun began. Car exhaust steamed in the chill. He still didn’t understand the logic of running a transport system on liquid-fuel/internal-combustion engines.

On the windowsill the Nahn buzzed in its glass prison. Everett bent down to peer at the thing in the jar. Laura had almost caught him last night. He had stayed awake, the Nahn spider clutched tight in his hand, until all the lights went off and the noise of television and radio and teeth being cleaned came to an end. He had gone quietly downstairs. The new Thryn implants meant he could move quickly and quietly. Not quickly and quietly enough. Laura had come down-stairs, woken by the noise, to find Everett M two-thirds of the way through a jar of peanut butter.

“Everett, I know guys your age are always starving, but I mean, spooning it into you . . .” Everett M had grinned sheepishly and tightened his grip on the Nahn spider in his left hand.

“You know, since you came back there’s been no filling you. Did they give you a pair of hollow legs or something? And there’s not a pick of weight on you. Put the light out when you’re finished.”

The peanut butter went some way towards filling the cold, gnawing hunger that never went away, but what Everett really wanted was the jar. He rinsed it out and before the Nahn spider could make a break for freedom, clapped his hand over the opening and shook the nano-device inside. In an instant the lid was on. That was the reason for the peanut butter. It was farmer’s market organic Fairtrade crunchy peanut butter (it had been pretty good, by the spoonful) and it had a metal lid. Every other jar in the kitchen had a plastic lid. The Nahn would have been able to feed on that plastic, grow, and escape.

The Nahn spider was aware of him. It scuttled around the jar to turn what passed for a face to him. Sensor eyes the size of pinpoints opened up to analyze him. The spider thing scrabbled at the sides of the jar, but not even Nahn technology could get a grip on the smooth glass.

“I should have done this last night,” Everett M said. with one thought, his right arm opened and unfolded an EM pulser. The electromagnetic pulse would fry every modem and wireless router and mobile phone on this side of Roding Road, but it would kill the Nahn stone dead. Kill dead something that was never properly alive. He would make this world safe. It wasn’t his world, but he would be its hero. They would never know. Everyone on the planet would owe him, Everett M. Singh, and they would never know.

He shaped the thought that would send the pulse of energy from the Thryn power cells. And stopped. There were memories in his head. Hyde Park in the snow, with the shattered shapes of Nahn hell-hounds and death-birds in a ring around him. Himself—his nanotech Earth 1 alter: how the oily black of the Nahn shifted into the brown of his own face. The eyes. They couldn’t fake the eyes. The eyes of the Earth 1 alter were insect eyes, shimmering and multifaceted. Everett M almost cried out as he remembered the Nahn tentacles snaking out of the ground faster than he could blast them, tangling the legs of his Thryn battlesuit, wrapping him and binding him and smothering him a meter deep inside a mound of heaving Nahn stuff. He had come close, so close to something worse than death.

He remembered the deal he had offered to save his life and get out of the hell plane of Earth 1. Give the Nahn a way of escape, a way past the quarantine the Plenitude had put on that plane.

All the Nahn wanted to do was survive, like him.

“Did you put that thought there?” Everett whispered at the spider thing scrabbling the jar. He had carried the Nahn spore from Earth 1 to the Thryn citadel on the far side of the Moon and then to Earth 10, hidden inside his own body. Had part of it remained there? was it already sending nanotech tendrils and feelers through his brain? “Are you still inside me?”

“Everett!” The shout and the sudden bang on the door made him jump. He knocked against the peanut butter jar. It fell towards the floor. Only Everett M’s Nahn reflexes stopped it from shattering. “Going now. Not ten minutes, not five minutes, not one minute: now!”

Shaking, Everett M set the jar back on the shelf. Grey sleety rain fell beyond the window.

“Coming!” Everett M pulled on waterproof and his Tottenham Hotspur backpack. He turned to the spider in the jar and whispered, “I’ll kill you later.”


About EMPRESS OF THE SUN:
World-hopping, high-action adventure starring a smart boy with computer skills and a tough girl who pilots a blimp

The airship Everness makes a Heisenberg Jump to an alternate Earth unlike any her crew has ever seen. Everett, Sen, and the crew find themselves above a plain that goes on forever in every direction without any horizon. There they find an Alderson Disc, an astronomical megastructure of incredibly strong material reaching from the orbit of Mercury to the orbit of Jupiter.

Then they meet the Jiju, the dominant species on a plane where the dinosaurs didn’t die out. They evolved, diversified, and have a twenty-five million year technology head-start on humanity. War between their kingdoms is inevitable, total and terrible.

Everness has jumped right into the midst of a faction fight between rival nations, the Fabreen and Dityu empires. The airship is attacked, but then defended by the forces of the Fabreen, who offers theEverness crew protection. But what is the true motive behind Empress Aswiu’s aid? What is her price?

The crew of the Everness is divided in a very alien world, a world fast approaching the point of apocalypse.

One Comment:

  1. I’ve had a review pending at SF Signal for a long time for this one. 🙂

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