Keebler followed along behind, silent in their tuned awareness. Alert but not worried.

Rightminding was a cure for all sorts of things, but political violence wasn’t always one of them. There were logical reasons, sometimes, for war—although in practice that had not happened in centuries. And even for assassinations. But in a community as small and tight-knit as Bad Landing, security had the advantage of already having a pretty good idea of who the crazies and the justifiably dissatisfied were, and Danilaw made sure there were always routes of complaint open to every citizen.

On such a pleasant night, the trails were busy under their canopies. Solar-storing fairylights shimmered in the overarching branches of several varieties of violet-black xenotrees, and the nightbirds—robins, screamers, shutterlings—flitted among their branches. The drone of insects hung heavy in the evening cool, throbbing and slower now than it had been at the height of summer. Danilaw kept an eye peeled. A pack of native wild “dogs” had begun patrolling inside the boundaries of Bad Landing—a good sign that the settlement was integrating well, but a possible contributor to the sudden rarity of smeeps. He hoped to catch sight of one, but they were shy and fleeting, and he had yet to glimpse more than eyeshine and a silhouette.

Along the way, Captain Amanda briefed him on her capabilities and what she knew about the incoming vessel. Danilaw listened and observed, for the moment defaulting to learning mode, while the walkers and the wildlife carried on around them. A couple of joggers passed, running either for the fun of it or to fulfill their Obligation. As Danilaw, Captain Amanda, and the security stepped aside to let them by, something small, nocturnal, and fast-moving brachiated past overhead. It could have been any of half a dozen varieties of treeswinger. It was gone before Danilaw looked up, or maybe it hadn’t gotten close enough to the directional lights for him to pick up more than a suggestion of how it moved.

The closest Administration Building access was within sight of Crater Lake, out from under the edge of the big xenos.

It was called a lake, and drainage meant the water was conspicuously less saline than seawater, but the impact scar from the eponymous bad landing communicated directly west to the Sunrise Sea. There was no sunrise over it now. Favor—dark, reflective oceans agleam behind argent bands of cloud—would already be setting as a waning crescent over the forests in the east. Danilaw couldn’t see Fortune’s poisonous sister-world through the trees, but the skies were spread with silver behind heavy boughs.

He sighed, and turned to enter the access. Danilaw stepped through on Captain Amanda’s heels, all but one of his security peeling away now that he was within the safety of Admin. The access sensors identified his microchip and granted him access, an air cushion lowering the platform smoothly to the deepest level.

He stepped out of the shaft and tugged his clothes back into order. Captain Amanda walked forward, outlined against the observation blisters that bubbled into the water. Karen followed behind, professionally unobtrusive. Using the access had activated the lights, now glowing dimly around the rims of the windows. Danilaw scanned the port briefly for any sign of an inquisitive dodecapus, but no twisting arms or sucker-feet rewarded him.

The creatures, with their color-shift skins and multiple eyes, liked to gather around the windows when the Admin offices were occupied. Although they were gentle omnivores, their size and power were sufficient that they could kill any of Fortune’s waterborne apex predators by suffocation, and they lived largely unmolested among the artificial reefs created by the wind farms.

Danilaw tended to think of them as watching over the human settlers; he was disappointed that none were in evidence. He and Captain Amanda walked the whole length of the observation hall and, before he let her chip-key open the meeting room door, he paused and stuck his head into the final blister.

It was cooler here, surrounded on three sides by the thermal mass of all that water. Danilaw peered into the blackness of the nighttime lake and frowned. What would it be like if that blackness were outer space? What would it be like if that were all you had ever known?

Captain Amanda didn’t sigh, but he heard her shifting from foot to foot.

“Just collecting my thoughts.” He turned back.

She smiled. “Collect mine, too, while you’re in there?”

“If I see ’em,” he said, liking her. You didn’t need affection to work well with someone, but if it happened, it could necessitate fewer adjustments to the rightminding. And it was always easier to like funny people—if they could be funny without it being at anyone else’s expense.

Danilaw thought it might be because humor was on some level an admission of weakness. I’ll show you my defense mechanisms if you show me yours.

Danilaw tipped his head at the door to the conference room, just to the other side of the entrance to his tiny private office. Another weirdness engendered by his role as City Administrator—who worked in an office anymore? Who met face-to-face? Who commuted? But authority required trappings, and to some people archaicism still meant authority.

Danilaw did sigh now. “Come on. Let’s go tell them the paradigm has shifted.”


a child was not to blame

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,

Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;

As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,

To the end, to the end, they remain.

—LAURENCE BINYON, “For the Fallen”

Perceval Conn glided through warm water, feeling the swirl and suck of eddying currents along her skin, over her scalp, through the tendrils of her unbound hair. The River flowed across open eyes and around the stumps of long-amputated wings. Her corneas adapted to the water’s greater angle of refraction, so her vision lost no clarity.

She moved through a world of slanted light, warped and repaired River channels, and darting animals: a world brighter than she had seen in decades. As the Jacob’s Ladder approached the destination star, more daylight flooded the world’s arrays, collected and reflected and refracted through sweeping energy nets. Every watt and every joule no longer must be rationed, hoarded, and accounted for. The world could be bright again—and soon, Perceval knew, there would be direct daylight through the world’s many windows. Then the problem would be keeping her cool instead of warm.

Perceval held her breath comfortably, her symbiont reporting excellent oxygen saturation and low levels of muscular fatigue. She let the River sweep her between thick feathering cables in their corrosion-resistant plating, and slanted columns of ceramic and light. There were fish here, silvery and rose, their backs dappled or freckled or banded or striped.

Once upon a time, Tristen and Benedick and Rien and Gavin had run along the banks of this River to Engine. In those days, the River had been a poisoned, radioactive coil. The River had been inhabited by the ghost of the world’s broken reactors in the form of a djinn called Inkling, and the run had nearly killed three of the four who made it. That mission of mercy had been on Perceval’s behalf, but Perceval had not been with them. She had been held prisoner by Dust, another fragment of the world’s broken consciousness—the Library, more or less.

The Angel of Memory, as he styled himself. Perceval remembered him as more of a demon.

But now the River was clean enough for an Exalt to swim in—cleaner than it needed to be, for such purposes. And now Rien and Gavin were gone, consumed by other intelligences. Inkling and Dust had been assimilated too. They had been folded into Nova, a new Angel—the same being that Rien had given herself up to create. And now they were all three as inextricable from the final product as eggs and flour from cake.

Perceval had been slow in forgiving herself for her lost loved ones and enemies, and slower in forgiving the new Angel so forged for the exigencies of her birth. But there was only so long one could hold a grudge, and as the years passed, Perceval found it helped to think of Nova as the child, and of Rien and the others as her parents. Nova was not a shadow of them or something constructed of their remnants … but a new person derived from the

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