Authors: Frank Chadwick
HOW DARK THE WORLD BECOMES
. Tough-as-nails former gangster Sasha Naradnyo is back in this noir thrill ride from legendary game creator Frank Chadwick.
Sasha Naradnyo had come a long way from the slums of Crack City on the planet Peezgtaan—from Human gangster to head of security for Tweezaa e-Traak, the Varoki heiress to the largest fortune in the history of the Stellar Commonwealth. Then the largest nation on the Varoki home world collapsed into riots and civil war, a murderously anti-human Varoki fanatic made his bid for power, and the head of the Secret Police decided to take a personal interest in Sasha.
Now Sasha must navigate the violence and anarchy of a growing revolution, come to grips with ghosts from his past who have suddenly turned up alive, make common cause with resistance fighters who want him dead, expose a conspiracy which will shake the Commonwealth to its foundations . . . and do it all without losing his soul.
BAEN BOOKS by Frank Chadwick
How Dark the World Becomes
Come the Revolution
The Forever Engine
Come the Revolution
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Frank Chadwick
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
A Baen Books Original
Baen Publishing Enterprises
P.O. Box 1403
Riverdale, NY 10471
Cover art by Kurt Miller
First printing, December 2015
Distributed by Simon & Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Come the revolution / Frank Chadwick.
pages ; cm
ISBN 978-1-4767-8095-5 (paperback)
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Pages by Joy Freeman (www.pagesbyjoy.com)
Printed in the United States of America
For Diana—and a better world for her
than Sasha was born to.
Thanks first of all to my many friends and colleagues who read the work and offered both insightful criticism and generous encouragement, especially Jake and Beth Strangeway, Nancy Blake, and Bart Palamaro (still the best freelance editor I’ve ever worked with). I am lucky to be part of three outstanding writer/critique groups. All of them serve the essential function of listening and criticizing, but most importantly reminding a writer that, no matter how lonely a job writing sometimes seems, he is never really alone. Without in any way detracting from the comments and suggestions of the other members of the groups, I want to single out Elaine Palencia and John Palen for repeatedly providing insights into the story which broadened my own understanding of my own characters. Whenever you guys speak, I listen carefully.
I’m lucky to know some pretty smart scientists. Bob Switzer helped steer me through the treacherous waters of biogenetics and neurotoxins. Rich Bliss and Jim Nevling helped with material science and physics, but also (and more importantly) physics jokes. That said, any implausibility in the science of the story is entirely my own responsibility.
Finally, thanks to the whole gang at Baen, but especially to Toni Weisskopf and to Tony Daniel, whose editorial hand is light, encouraging, and well-considered. The opening of the novel, and general pacing, benefited significantly from Tony’s suggestions. I also appreciate Gray Rinehart’s thorough and skillful copyediting on this manuscript, as well as his having been the editor who kicked my first novel manuscript for Baen—
How Dark The World Becomes
—upstairs to Toni’s desk with a positive recommendation. I still owe you a drink.
There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.
—William Cosmo Monkhouse
I killed twenty-two people by the time I died. Hadn’t killed any since. Some claimed that was due to a lack of opportunity, but I wasn’t so sure.
I was only dead for a couple weeks, and I spent almost all of that cryogenically frozen, so some folks treated the whole thing as just another complicated medical procedure, but I didn’t. Dead is dead, and take it from me, it’s not for the faint of heart.
After resuscitation there were months of rehab, physical and psychological, but in the two years since my life had gotten back to “normal”—whatever that meant—my existence had been sufficiently nonviolent to satisfy a Buddhist monk. That’s exactly what I’d wanted and I wasn’t complaining. The problem was, as I looked out the shuttle window at the sprawling night-lit landscape of Sakkatto City, the beating heart of the political and commercial Varoki engines that drove the
—the Stellar Commonwealth—I had the growing feeling my peaceful interlude was nearing an end. A storm was gathering, had probably been gathering since before I was born, but now it was close. I could sense it, like smelling rain just before it starts to fall.
My parents named me Aleksandr Sergeyevich Naradnyo, but friends called me Sasha.
* * *
Our executive shuttle flew lazy ovals for ten minutes while municipal traffic control figured out which approach pattern they wanted us on. The Wanu River beneath us shone like a silver ribbon in the reflected light of Hazz’Akatu’s largest moon.
I’d seen big cities on Earth but Sakkatto was different, dominated by seven enormous arcologies, each of which housed from half a million to over a million people. As we circled the city, the massive, towering structures already glowed from interior lights, washing out the last dull red traces of sunset. Each arcology was unique, built at different times over the last three hundred or so years. Styles changed, material technology changed, but the Varoki desire to live in those giant anthills never did.
Not all of them could afford to, though. Several kilometers separated each of the arcologies from its neighbors. Slums filled the spaces in between, a jumble of lower buildings and twisting streets, at this altitude looking like piled-up refuse that had just blown against the base of the arcs and then settled there. High speed maglev train lines fifty or so meters above the rooftops of the slums linked the arcologies. All of the big cities I’d seen on Hazz’Akatu, the Varoki home world, were pretty much like this.
“Tee-Traak One to Traffic Con, acknowledged,” the shuttle pilot said into his commlink, “Inbound for Katammu-Arc on corridor Seven Niner North.” He turned in his seat and held up two fingers, visible through the open door to the cockpit, and I nodded. Two minutes to the executive landing pad of the Katammu Arcology, an enormous five-sided metal and glass pyramid almost three kilometers across at the base and two kilometers tall.
“Perimeter team up,” I said to my own embedded commlink on the security detail channel.
Our three security people closest to the exit hatch, the three in tactical gear and heavy body armor, checked their Mark 19 RAGs—which stood for
Rifle, Assault, Gauss
—one last time and then slung them and drew their neuro-pistols, nonlethal stun weapons. They’d stay behind with the shuttle once we disembarked and were sure the landing bay was secure. The other six security folks would accompany us to the reception at the uBakai Ministry of Knowledge. I wasn’t expecting high-firepower trouble, but it always paid to be prepared. I closed my eyes and leaned back against the seat cushion. What
Nut jobs. Angry demonstrators. Lone wolf with a death wish. Sniper. Those were all in the realm of possibility. They’d never exactly happened to us here on Hazz’Akatu, but they sometimes happened to other “high profiles.” The fact that a ten-year-old Varoki girl and my pregnant Human wife were “high profiles” who might need this sort of security was proof enough to any sane person that this world had worms in its head.
But that wasn’t exactly news.
Marrissa must have sensed my thoughts. Her hand touched mine and I opened my eyes and smiled at her.
“Hey,” I said.
She squeezed my hand. “Everything will be fine.”
“I know. Just doing what I’m paid for—worrying.”
That’s part of what the chief of security for the two highest profile targets in the whole
got paid for, but not all of it.
I never take anything for granted, but tonight I figured the biggest threats were political, not violent. We were always prepared to deal with direct violence, but so far never had to. The political stuff was unrelenting, though, like mold, like rust. But politics was Marrissa’s department, not mine. I reached over and rested my hand on the swell of her belly, felt our future son kick, then kick again.
Sitting on the other side of Marr, Tweezaa leaned forward and looked at me, her face serious, thoughtful. Then she leaned back in her seat.
Tweezaa had just turned ten the week before, which made her about thirteen in Earth years. She’d shot up so fast the last two years she nearly reached my shoulder. When we first met I carried her on my hip with one arm.
Externally, Varoki are a lot like Humans: upright bipeds with a head on top holding a brain and the same sensory organs we have. Their sloping foreheads and lack of a protruding nose, their hairless iridescent skin, the large leaflike ears, and those long slender fingers, made Humans take one look and think
, even though Varoki have far less genetically in common with terrestrial lizards than we Humans do.
Tweezaa was dark of skin but still richly iridescent, and when the light hit her just right she seemed to glow. Even when she was a little Varoki girl, she’d had an unselfconscious dignity that had me calling her The Dark Princess within a week of meeting her. I still thought of her that way.
Tweezaa e-Traak was heir to probably the biggest fortune in Varoki history, and Marrissa was her legal guardian, and actually sat on the board of governors of AZ Simki-Traak Trans-Stellar, the corporate crown jewel of the e-Traak family empire. She was the only Human ever to have done so, and the only female. The idea of females having that much power in male-dominated Varoki society, and in Marrissa’s case a
female, pissed off millions of Varoki in more ways than I could count.
That was one reason I was such a tight-ass about security, that and the fact Marr and Tweezaa were the only family I had still alive.
The shuttle lifted its nose and decelerated, pushing us forward against our seat restraints, but we didn’t level to land. I keyed my embedded commlink and pinged the shuttle pilot.
“What’s up, Kamal?”
“We’ve got a temporary hold, Sasha, some kind of disturbance at the VIP landing bay.”
“Okay,” I answered and looked around the cabin: perimeter team still up at the main hatch, six other bodyguards in formal wear still strapped in, all but one of the team Human, everyone waiting for something to happen.
Something wasn’t right about this.
“Kamal, how long does Traffic Con expect us to just hover out here?”
“Um, the flag-off wasn’t from Traffic Con. It was on a Munie tactical band.”
I felt the adrenaline surge as soon as he said it. “Put us in that landing bay,
! Emergency, my authority.”
“Yes, sir!” he answered, his own voice rising a note. The shuttle nose tipped down and acceleration pressed us back in our seats just as the missile hit us.
A deafening crack, sparks, whistle of shrapnel, smoke, screams, hiss of air rushing past, screech of metal as we plowed into something and then skidded across it to a halt.
For a moment it was quiet under the flashing overhead orange and blue emergency lights, everyone still alive stunned. The cabin filled with the stench of burning insulation and then the first moans of the injured. I found myself sprawled across Marr and Tweezaa, covering their fronts, although I had no memory of releasing my seat harness. Both of them stirred, eyes opening slowly.
“Marr, are you okay?”
She took a moment to focus on me and then nodded. I touched her stomach, felt both of her hands wrapped protectively over it. She looked down and then back up at me and nodded again.
“Tweezaa, are you—?”
I stopped as she held her right arm up and I saw the shrapnel wound through her forearm. She stared at it, more puzzled than frightened. It only oozed a little blood but that was because of shock. I pulled off my tuxedo tie and wrapped it around her arm.
“Hold that as tight as you can. It’s going to start bleeding in a minute, and probably hurt like hell. We’ve got to get out of here before there’s a fire.” I triggered both of their harness release tabs and stood up to assess the damage.
We had a fair-sized hole in the forward bulkhead of the cabin on the right side, and a matching one aft. It took me a couple seconds to find the perimeter team, one of them stirring but all of them looking pretty bad. Most of the other six bodyguards were moving. Iris Tenryu, my second in command, popped her restraints and stood up, her tuxedo splashed with blood—someone else’s, I assumed. Behind her I saw Hong Lee unhooking as well. There was smoke in the cabin but it wasn’t getting any thicker, at least not yet. Liquid hydrogen hissed into the rear of the cabin from ruptured fuel tanks, frosting the walls white.
“Iris, I’m taking the primaries out. Get everyone else organized. Keep away from the deep freeze back there, and haul the injured out before we go up in flames. Hong, can you walk?” He stood up in answer. “Okay, you’re my wingman. Grab some firepower.”
I got Marr and Tweezaa to the door, mostly under their own power but with one of my arms around each for support. My own knees were wobbly and I wasn’t injured or pregnant, so they were holding up really well.
The hatch was sprung and slightly ajar. It didn’t respond to the release lever but two good hard kicks sent it clattering to the foamstone landing pad of the VIP shuttle bay. I immediately felt a strong breeze and heard the soft roar of the hangar bay exhaust fans blowing any hydrogen from our ruptured fuel tanks out the open bay door before it could reach explosive concentrations. But it could pocket inside the cabin or machinery spaces, so we still had to get clear of the wreck.
I scanned the bay, which was a good hundred meters wide and half-filled with other executive shuttles. Ours was the only one wrecked. There were a lot of Varoki as well, at least a hundred of them, starting to stand again after hitting the deck when we made our crash landing. I didn’t see any uniforms, though. There were supposed to be Munies—Municipal Police—working crowd control and VIP security. Where were they? I hoped we hadn’t landed on them.
Beside me, Hong knelt by the body of one of the perimeter team and unbuckled the ammunition harness. The body was headless, but male, so it was either John Cartwright or Norm Ramirez. Cartwright was new to the team while Ramirez had been with us for over a year. The anonymity of the corpse bothered me, as if somewhere maybe both of them were partly alive and partly dead. Hong buckled on the web harness, picked up the RAG-19 assault rifle, and looked up at me.
“The main exit point is to our left, into the interior of the arcology,” I said. “I’m going that way with the primaries and try to find a secure spot away from the wreck. Cover us from here until we’re in position, then join us. Got it?”
He nodded and stood.
I jumped down to the pavement, which was less than a meter below the edge of the hatch since the shuttle had come in with its landing gear still retracted. The missile damage didn’t look as bad from out here but we’d clipped the edge of the bay door coming in, lost an engine mount, and there were pieces of shattered composite turbine blades all over the floor. I helped Marr and Tweezaa down and then we hustled forward past the cockpit. I saw a maintenance work station, with a heavy metallic work bench bolted to the floor, about twenty meters toward the door. The bench would give us some cover if the shuttle blew so we made for it.
As we trotted, I heard the Varoki crowd to our right start to shout. It was all in aBakaa, which I don’t speak, but I picked out a couple words I’d heard often enough to recognize:
. The tone sounded ugly. I turned and yelled back to the shuttle.
“Warning shots only, Hong, unless they charge.”
Gauss weapons, like the RAG-19, don’t make much noise, just the snaps of magnetically launched flechettes breaking the sound barrier. I heard Hong’s assault rifle stutter a couple three-round bursts, saw the sparks as they hit the ceiling and ricocheted. That put the crowd back on the floor until we made the shelter of the workbench where I found Kamal Darzi, our shuttle pilot, holding his left arm which was pretty obviously broken. His face was lacerated by about a dozen deep cuts and slick with blood. It was a miracle he still had both of his eyes.
“Ah, boss, you’re alive!” he said. “Miss Tweezaa, Madame Marfoglia, I am sorry for the terrible landing.”
I helped them down behind the bench and Marrissa helped Darzi get his arm wrapped up.
“No apology necessary, Mr. Darzi,” she said. “We’re alive. I think everyone hurt in back was from the explosion before the crash. What happened?”
“A missile fired from the open bay hatch directly at us. I saw it fire but it hit almost the same instant, came through the windscreen and then the cabin bulkhead behind me, right past my head.”
“Hypervelocity kinetic energy missile. They must have figured we’d be armored,” I said. “Good thing. That long rod went right through us, did most of its damage with secondary fragmentation and impact. If they’d hit us with an explosive warhead…” I didn’t finish the sentence. No point in belaboring the unpleasantly obvious. I looked around. Where were the assassins now? Had they blended back in to the crowd?
I saw Iris and someone else helping our injured out of the hatch and the crowd started finding its voice again, shouting at Iris and the others around the shuttle as well as us. They started edging forward when about twenty Varoki Munies in riot gear showed up, streamed in both entrances to the bay, and fanned out into a control line.