Sean McMullen is one of the hottest new writers working today. He is a three-time winner of the Ditmar Award in his native Australia, and has also won that country's Aurealis Award. His last novel, Souls in the Great Machine, began the steampunk saga of Greatwinter and garnered him much critical acclaim. The Miocene Arrow continues McMullen's story of a far-future Earth flung back to its pre-technological roots.Ultra-light American diesel gunwings can hold their own against Australian human-powered battle computers and a tram-based net. But they are helpless against the ultimate doomsday machine: The Miocene Arrow.In a fortieth-century America of ancient kingdoms with opulent courts, hereditary engineering guilds, and rigid class distinction in warfare, a centuries-old balance of power is shattered by a few dozen Australian infiltrators. Against a rich backdrop of war, chivalry, conspiracy, and a diesel-powered arms race, a dangerous secret alliance has formed. Now the unlikely trio of an airlord, an abbess, and a fugitive are joined together in a desperate race against time to stop the Miocene Arrow from being launched--and save the world in the process. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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August 01, 2000
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Excerpt from The Miocene Arrow by Sean Mcmullen
5 May 3960: Condelor
It was said that no dominion in Mounthaven did coronations and funerals so well as Greater Bartolica. In area it was the biggest of the dominions and Condelor, its beautiful and ancient capital, was the most elegant of the known world's cities. The buildings that lined its streets were built proof against age as well as earthquakes, built with curving walls that tapered gracefully upward, as if striving to rise into the air. The windows were within heavy arches, but there were so many windows in each building that their interiors were never dark or oppressive. The apartment terraces, shops, and storehouses were all encrusted with multicolored stone and glazed tiles. Even the tiles on the roofs were glazed and colored, for it was important that Condelor also be pleasing to the wardens who saw it from the air. Raised aqueducts of sawn black basalt, orange sandstone, and red brick carried water in from the nearby mountains, where it passed down terracotta pipes to power machines before emptying into the canal waterways that interwove the roads and tramways of the city.
As one neared the center of Condelor the parks became bigger, the mansions were more splendid, and the streets and avenues grew wider until the royal palace came into view above the trees. It was built in parkland interlaced with canals, and to the south was the spacious palace wingfield that could accommodate the gunwings of hundreds of visiting wardens and airlords. Even the gunwing halls ofthe wingfield had stained glass in their arched windows, while the adjunct's tower was surrounded by flying buttresses and encrusted with winged gargoyles.
The coronation of Greater Bartolica's new airlord had attracted wardens and squires with over three hundred sailwings and gunwings, and the field guildsmen and their tents supporting the vast flock of wings had spilled out of the wingfield area and into the surrounding parks. Ground crews could be seen pushing aircraft of every airworthy shape imaginable along the avenues to reach the guild tents where they were to be serviced, tuned, and cleaned. Freelance engineers advertised and displayed their valves, cylinders, rings, bearings, and atomizers at stalls on the mosaic sidewalks. Compression spirit of many caloric blends was available from carts laden with barrels, while other carts carried little steam engines to spin compression engines into life. Freelance gunsmiths did a particularly good trade. The best reaction guns were sold in pairs and were built light--like everything else that had to fly.
Quite apart from its most obvious objective, the coronation was a celebration of travel and class distinction. In fact speed of travel defined Mounthaven society, and one's social status defined whether one had taken months or hours to reach Condelor. At the lowest levels, itinerant workers, poor scholars, outlaws, trappers, and bounty hunters traveled the trails by foot. Such travel was slow and dangerous, but free. At the next level, the farmhands, birdherders, and townsfolk never traveled more than ten miles from where they were born, but they were generally secure and happy, and never attended coronations. The merchants, artisans, and other respectable folk traveled on the steam trams, whose mesh of trackwork linked all the important cities, towns, and estates. The trams were regular and well guarded, but crowded and expensive, and averaged barely three times the pace of a brisk walk. Fuel, raw materials, and equipment were also moved by tram, which meant that everything was expensive unless produced locally. Mostestates were self-sufficient, and few cities were bigger than a half-day journey with a farm handcart.
The nobility flew. Airlords, wardens, squires, and a few select guildsmen flew the sailwings, regals, and gunwings that defined the aristocracy. No part of Mounthaven was more than a few hours away from any warden's estate, but even a flock of three or four wings required an estate of two hundred to support, maintain, and fuel them. A new aircraft cost what a prosperous commoner could earn in two decades. Wardens patrolled the land during Calls, fought duels and highly stylized wars, attacked renegade militia strongholds, and monopolized fast communication and travel. The wardens were visible to all, and in turn saw, taxed, and controlled everyone beneath. them. They were also free of the Call while in the air. While in many ways less than perfect as political systems went, it had endured since the reinvention of diesel compression engines over a thousand years earlier.
Serjon Feydamor was the lowest of the flying elite, an apprentice guildsman and trainee flyer. The Yarronese youth wore a plain green flight jacket as he explored the multitude of stalls of what might easily have been mistaken for an artisans' festival. On the right and left of his collar he also wore silver flyer blazons signifying that he was qualified to fly armed sailwings in the service of his airlord. He had the crest of his engineers' guild on his cap, but his cap was folded up and hidden in his pocket. Occasionally he was hailed as a squire by the vendors, and each time his heart flushed warm with pride.
Serjon was in a very curious position. After having sired several daughters but no sons, the guildmaster Jeb Feydamor had petitioned his wife and his warden under the tradition of assisted succession. Under this custom, Warden Jannian visited Jeb's wife for several weeks until she became pregnant by him. Were the child another girl, the warden's youngest son would become the nominal heir of the Feydamor guild family. As it happened, Serjon wasborn of the union, yet he was born with his true father's love of flying and was proving a poor apprentice engineer. In theory, if Warden Jannian and all his other sons were to die, then Serjon could lay claim to the wardenate. Even though he never wished such a disaster to happen, Serjon nevertheless considered himself to be a flyer. The thin, angular, and intense youth of nineteen wore his engineer's crest with reluctance and shame, and only when forced to.
The great gathering of aircraft was not open to the citizens of Condelor, who had to content themselves with merely watching the wings fly in from all points of the compass. Sailwings and gunwings of the Mounthaven wardens soared lazily through the sky while Serjon wandered the streets. They were elegant and stylish aircraft, whose form had often remained unchanged over centuries because their estate guildsmen had decreed that they had achieved perfection already.
There were more ceremonies than just the coronation, which was the actual focus for the gathering. The guildmasters of the engineers, airframists, fuelers, gunsmiths, and instrumenteers had meetings to refine standards, while wingfield adjuncts met to discuss wingfield administration, dueling and war protocols. Members of the guild of meteorologists discussed weather theory and precedent, squires met to arrange marriages for their children, weavers debated the virtues of the new crosswoven airframe silk that promised double strength, and the wardens themselves discussed flying. The competitions were already over, but pinned to Serjon's collar at his throat was a little gold starpoint kite that marked him as the winner of the sailwing division in target kite shooting. Every so often he would caress it, as if reassuring himself that he was born to fly.
Within the palace grounds the Inner Guard and ancillary carbineers all wore parade uniforms, bright, smart, and well tailored for the coronation. The instruments of the bands shone in the sunlight as they marched along theavenues playing bright, precise marches for the parades and processions, but by night string orchestras took over as the nobles and their wives, sons, and daughters danced in the brightly painted and tapestry-laden halls of the palace. An airlord from Senner had once said, "We go to Condelor to fall in love, and to remember how to live." To Serjon, however, the Condelor gathering was an excuse to hide his cap in his pocket and mingle among strangers as a flyer.
Serjon's wanderings had taken him to the palace wingfield when a Calltower bell began ringing. He immediately went to a public rail and clipped his tether to it, then waited to watch the duty warden ascend for his Call patrol.
The duty warden of the palace wingfield heard the ringing of the Calltower bell as he was breakfasting in the adjunct's chambers. Even as he looked up, the guildsmen of his ground crew began shouting to each other. Moments later the compression engine of his sailwing spluttered into life as his engineers spun it with a steam engine on a cart. The warden stood up, buttoned his jacket, then took a steamed towel from his aide and wiped his face and hands. His flight jacket was a blaze of gold thread embroidery on blue and yellow silk quilting, with gilt epaulettes of dirkfang cat skulls and red gemstones inset within each button. Standing in front of a full-length mirror, he pulled on his leather and felt cap with raised domes of giltwork over the ears, laced it tight, then picked up his tassel-fringed gloves. Finally his aide brought a gold cloak with his estate's crest embroidered on the back, and Warden Brantic strode from the room out onto the wingfield.
Along with Serjon there were hundreds of foreign dignitaries outside waiting to watch the warden ascend, ranging from senior wardens to mere merchants. Serjon should have felt pride burning through his body, knowing that even the wealthy merchants alongside him were below a flyer in peerage status, yet something was nagging at hismind. Warden Brantic's flight designator was 13. Serjon stared at the number as if it were a large and dangerous predator, fearful for the warden yet relieved that someone else was about to step into its cage.
Most of the onlookers were in national parade dress, guild uniforms, or their own splendid flight jackets. There were so many dozens of wardens, squires, flyers, guildmasters, and envoys that Warden Brantic found the spectacle overwhelming as he emerged. What was usually a routine part of a warden's duties had become a major ceremony. One hundred and thirty wardens and nine airlords were in the city for the Bartolican Airlord's coronation, and Bartolican prestige and honor rode with every action of every official in even the most mundane of duties. The adjunct and the wingfield's herald were waiting beside the warden's sleek, white sailwing, and the onlookers included guildmasters from Dorak, Senner, and Colandoro, as well as several wardens from Yarron. All wore Call anchors or Call tethers but Brantic: for this day, he alone was to be godlike and above the Call.
"The layabouts are of higher rank than usual today, Sair Jiminay," said the warden quietly as the wingfield herald opened the silver clasps of the Book of Orders.
"A Call now means no Call for three days or more," murmured the herald. "Tomorrow morning's coronation will be free of interruption, so the new airlord can rightly claim divine favor."
"Who knows, perhaps he really does have divine favor," the warden replied.
The herald rang his handbell for attention.
"Hear now, citizens of Greater Bartolica and honored guests, that Warden Hindanal Brantic has been charged by the Airlord Designate of Greater Bartolica to oversee his palace, capital, and all its approaches during the Call that now approaches us. Warden Brantic, you are charged with the responsibility of flying high above Condelor, watching over its people's safety, guarding its approaches, and warningother wardens and flyers of the peril of the Call. Do you accept this charge?"
"I do accept this charge and all its responsibilities," replied Brantic.
The warden pinned the Airlord Designate's pennon of arms to his jacket beside those of his wife, then strode over to his sailwing and eased himself into the seat. Like all wardens of means, he had a gunwing for dueling and a sailwing for Call patrols. The guildsmen of his ground crew removed the chocks from the wheels and aligned the aircraft on the wingstrip; then the warden was flagged clear to ascend. He tried all the flaps and control surfaces, opened the throttle, and rolled off along the rammed gravel surface. The sailwing lacked the power of a gunwing, but was lighter and more delicately built so that it could stay in the air for over four hours. The warden's sailwing ascended smoothly, and then he cranked in his wheels and banked to the north. The ordeal was over, he was up. He had not made a fool of himself in front of the assembled nobles of Mounthaven.
The Call was approaching from the east, luring every mammal larger than a terrier to wander mindlessly west. The warden flew over the city walls and out over the irrigated farmlands, aqueducts, canals, and trackways. Sure enough, the birdherders were milling about against the west fences of their fields, yet their rheas, emus, and ostriches were grazing normally. The Call did not affect birds of any size; neither did it affect people if they flew free in the air. Nine miles through the Call's depth he flew over fields where its effect had passed. There were no outlaw packs hurrying along in this Call's wake to raid the capital. The warden turned back.
The Call had still not reached Condelor as he flew back over its walls, but the people were prepared. The streets were almost deserted, smoke was less thick from the myriad chimneys, and only the canal barges and gravity trams were still running. The warden noted several buildings thathad not run up their flags: the owners would be fined in due course. He pressed the lever that released the sailwing's siren, then methodically patterned the city so that none but the deaf could have missed its blare.
The front of the Call finally arrived, and presently Brantic was the only human awake in a strip nine miles deep and thirty miles wide. The truth was that the capital did not need the sailwings to patrol its skies during a Call. There was an adequate network of signal towers, warning stations, and Call bulwarks, so that people were seldom lost through accidents or lack of warning. The patrols were symbolic; they were to be seen rather than to protect. The sailwing was a plain statement that the nobility were above the Call in every sense of the word, as it had been for many centuries.
The movement that caught Brantic's eye was within the palace grounds. A figure was walking briskly, diagonal to the Call's direction and allure. One of the ornamental birds, the warden told himself as it vanished behind a bush; then the figure was in sight again. Through his field glasses he could see arms swinging, and the bright blue of a merchant carbineer uniform. A man! The figure vanished into a doorway.
The warden lowered his field glasses and rubbed his eyes. An illusion, he told himself. A shadow, a machine, a trick of the light. He hesitated, then made a note in his log. "Figure walking across direction of Call/ palace administrative wing/ ornamental rhea bird may be loose there."
He was circling for another look when he noticed a gunwing over the city, approaching the palace wingfield with its wheels cranked out. Brantic pushed his sailwing's throt-de forward to full power and stood the aircraft on its wingtip as he came around to warn it off. The red double wedge grew until he could see that it was painted with the East Region's colors. He flew right across its path, but its warden ignored him.
"Idiot, can't you see the flags?" exclaimed Brantic aloud as he released his siren and came around again.
The red gunwing trainer was dropping fast as he caught up, and although the airscrew was spinning, he suspected that it had been feathered. Brantic dipped his wings and pointed east of the city to where the Call had already passed. The other warden stared grimly ahead at the palace wingfield. Now Brantic noticed two other heads through the glass of the narrow cockpit. All that weight, no wonder he's in trouble, the warden thought. He must have ascended with a bare minimum of compression spirit to get off the ground at all.
At fifty feet the Call's effect cut in, even though the aircraft was flying free. The warden had done the alignment well, he was on course to land smoothly and roll to a stop on the flightstrip, even if insensible with the Call. The Bartolican heralds would declare another triumph of Bartolican wardens' skill at flying.
The gust of wind that caught the gunwing trainer would have been nothing to a warden free of the Call, but the red aircraft was gliding deadstick. It tipped, then righted, but it was now parallel to the flightstrip as it continued its descent. It flew over the tents, gunwings, and stores of the assembled wardens, and a wheel passed only inches above the insensible Serjon Feydamor's head as he mindlessly strove against his Call tether to wander west. Finally the gunwing slammed into the compression spirit barrels of the Pangaver wardens. The resulting explosion was all billowing black smoke and arcing fragments, yet nobody on the ground reacted.
Brantic climbed, his head spinning with shock and dismay. A Bartolican warden had crashed during his Call patrol. There would be hell to pay, the Airlord Designate himself would be shouting for blood, and the wardens would all be clamoring for an inquisition when he landed.
"Fool!" Brantic shouted at the column of smoke that was slanting up into the sky; then he turned his sailwing tosweep the airspace over the city for other gunwings. There was none. For the briefest of moments Brantic contemplated a vertical dive at full power into the distant waters of Saltlake, but his training and sense of honor would not allow it. He circled until the Call was past, and although the two remaining hours dragged, they were not slow enough for Brantic. Call flags were being lowered throughout the capital as he began his descent to the palace wingfield.
The Governor of East Region, his wife, and Warden Darris of Pocatello had crammed themselves aboard the red gunwing, intent on making a grand entrance at the coronation. Even with the extra three hundred pounds of passengers and their luggage there should have been fuel to spare, yet there had apparently been headwinds that ate away the margin for safety during the brief ninety-mile flight. Perhaps pride had dictated that they try to land at the capital, rather than coming down on some cart track where the Call had passed already. Whatever the reason, all aboard had died. Fortunately nobody on the ground had been killed, and apart from the fuel dump there had been no other damage. Pangaver was a small and unimportant Dominion, and merely being the center of attention was a matter of satisfaction to its nobles. To Brantic's surprise, nobody had realized exactly what had happened until he had landed. Serjon had helped to fight the last of the flames once the Call had passed and freed him, yet the Yarronese flyer had thought he was attending the crash site of Warden Brantic's gunwing--doomed by the 13 of its designator.
The duty warden was suspended from all further Call patrol flights pending a full inquisition, but preparations for the coronation went on without interruption. The investiture of a new governor for East Region was scheduled as the new airlord's first official duty, however.
Some miles to the south a steam tram chuffed across the pastures and farmlands that were still under the Call. Thedriver was in the grip of the Call and had released his deadhand brake and firebox quench, yet another man was gripping the deadhand lever with his left hand while holding a small telescope to his eye with his right. While not totally oblivious of the allure of the Call, he was still in full control of both his mind and body.
Juan Glasken was far less in awe of the distant outline of Condelor than the vast majority of the Bartolican capital's visitors, but unlike that vast majority he had traveled far, far further. Sometimes the big, middle-aged man had been in search of fortune and sometimes city constables had been hot on his heels. On one occasion he had even been in command of the squad of musketeers whose flintlocks were all that stood between the Southern Alliance Mayorates and an overwhelming army of Southmoors.
But there were no musketeers in the four American Callhavens, and not a single army or militia still used flintlocks. Neither were there any Southmoors, and the American nations were called dominions rather than mayorates. Glasken was good at learning new languages, was used to travel, and could handle himself well in a fight. This made him a good choice for a long and dangerous mission to the other side of the world from which there could be no return, but there was something else which made him a truly ideal choice: he was under a sentence of death in his very distant homeland. A friend had once described Glasken as not completely human in some ways, yet far more human than any human had a right to be.
Glasken released the deadhand lever, and automatic mechanisms began to slow the tram. He walked back to the passenger compartment where a woman sat reading while two others strained mindlessly against their Call tethers to follow the allure west into a nearby salt lake.
"The tram is slowing, Fras Glasken," said the middle-aged but still strikingly beautiful woman, looking up from her book.
"There is a Call upon us and we are approaching Condelor, Frelle Theresla," he replied.
"So these people have wardens who fly above the Call's influence. I can see a wing-machine patrolling above the city with my telescope, and if he saw this tram moving he would be suspicious about why the deadhand lever had not been released."
Theresla closed her book and looked out over the flat pastures where rheas and emus grazed, as oblivious of the Call as she.
"It is such a bore to have humans who can defy the Call," she said as the tram shuddered to a halt. Steam began hissing through a valve in the boiler.
"The driver will be surprised to be within sight of Condelor and with a hot boiler too--but then we know nothing of that, do we?"
"Of course not, Fras Glasken. As always, I am pleased to have you in charge of such details. Speaking of details, they say that the current Bartolican fashion is for the women to display a great deal of breast."
Glasken twirled the points of his waxed mustache and wiggled his fingers.
"Perhaps I was unduly hasty in releasing the deadhand," he replied, but he sat down and clipped on his Call tether nevertheless. "So, do you still think we will find the aviad radicals in Condelor?"
"Fras Glasken, this coronation is one of the biggest gatherings of Mounthaven leaders that is possible. If they wish to buy allies and hatch plots they will do it here."
"There may be hundreds of them, and they will not be pleased to see us."
"So they may reveal themselves by trying to kill us," Theresla concluded with an open flourish of her arms.
"Frelle Theresla, I have ideas about dying asleep, in bed, as a very old man, and in the company of someone else's wife," Glasken grumbled.
"You will probably die soon, in great pain, and with your body riddled with bullet holes, Fras Glasken, just like the rest of us. In the meantime, are you ready to play the part of a suave lecher with no more moral restraint than a pig in a cakeshop?"
"Oink, oink," replied Glasken. "And will you be spying, stealing, lying, and killing people?"
"Oh yes. Ah, the driver is stirring. Best to speak only Old Anglian from now on."
Serjon Feydamor stood with his father, watching the Inspector General's staff sifting through the still smoking wreckage of the Bartolican gunwing and Pangaver fuel barrels. Serjon was now wearing his cap and guild crest, the gold radial compression engine of the engineers' guild. His crest was dull and grimy, yet every few minutes he took a handkerchief to polish the silver wings on his collar that marked him as a registered flyer.
"Of course this is only to be expected," Serjon pronounced solemnly, wiping at the silver wings yet again.
"What do you mean?" asked guildmaster Jeb Feydamor, wondering what his stepson had seen that everyone else had missed.
"This is thirteen weeks and thirteen years since Warden Darris made his first solo flight, I checked in the adjunct's register. Now he should have--"
"Serjon, give it a rest! We're guildsmen, not astrologers."
With that Feydamor turned away in exasperation, and began to slowly circle around the crash site. Serjon glanced across to Brantic's distant sailwing then went after his father.
"Warden Brantic's sailwing has 13 in its flock designator code," Serjon continued as they paced together. "I tried to warn him yesterday but he called me an ignorant Yarronese peon."
"You are an ignorant Yarronese peon," replied Feydamortestily. "You give the rest of us a bad name with your superstitions--and that badge!"
Jeb snatched the cap from Serjon, rubbed the gold radial engine crest on his sleeve until it shone out against the dark cloth, then jammed the cap back on his son's head. They passed an officer of the Bartolican merchant carbineers who was standing with his arms folded, also watching the investigation. Once the guildmaster and his stepson had their backs to him he smiled and nodded imperceptibly.
Warden-heir Alion Damaric of Yarron also stood at the crash site, paying his respects to the dead nobles. Thoughts and associations passed through his mind as he searched for a reason for the tragedy. Gunwings were kept in the air by fuel barrels and guildsmen's tents, yet how inglorious it was for a warden to end his life by smashing into a pile of barrels. He became aware of a girl nearby, a Bartolican noble with a loose plait of red hair that reached down to her knees. She had her mouth covered with her hands, and there were tears streaming from her eyes. The tiny pennons sewn onto the shoulders of her sleeves declared that she was of the royal house of the Airlord Designate. Alion walked across to her.
"A tragedy of the very worst kind," he said in Bartolican. "Did you know them?"
"Hardly at all," she replied, staring unfocused into the litter of black char. "I weep for the tragedy, but I weep with joy that they died honorably, in a gunwing. Others say they were fools, dying for the sake of a better view in the coronation, but ..."
"They died honoring their new airlord, Semme. What better way could they have died? In bed? In a training flight?"
"Oh sair, you do understand--"
She turned, then caught sight of the gold Yarronese lacework on Alion's flight jacket. She backed away a step.
"Warden-heir Alion Damaric, at your service, Semme,"he said, bowing from the waist. "I may be Yarronese, but I am not evil."
The girl recovered her composure, stepped forward again, and took his hand, bowing in turn.
"Please, your pardon, sair. I am Samondel of the Leovor estate. You, you startled me, I do apologize, again. Just now some ignorant Yarronese guildsman was saying that they died because of thirteen in a flock designator or some such rubbish."
"They died through chance, but chance also let them die honorably," Alion said solemnly. "There is nothing more to say."
They wandered away together. Alion gave the Bartolican princess a tour of the gunwings of his father's estate before escorting her back to the palace. As they passed the tents and wings of the Jannian estate a guildsman tapped Serjon's shoulder as he worked with his head beneath an engine cowling, hoping to get grease on his engineer's badge again.
"Always happens," said Pel Jemarial, guildmaster of Jannian's airframe guild. "Whenever there's a gathering of the flocks some young fools from the wrong side of a feud decide to fall in love."
Serjon looked out from the open cowling of the sailwing and glanced at the couple.
"Lucky fools," was all that he had to say to his warden's airframe guildmaster.
In spite of the hundreds of towns and cities that Rosenne Rodriguez had traveled to, she was still astounded by the magnificence of the capital of Greater Bartolica. The interdominion tramway led through the most imposing parts of the city: across wide canals, over boulevards teeming with people, under mighty arches, through tunnels, and finally over a huge stone bridge looking down along the processional avenue to the airlord's palace. The angular Sky Tower of the palace reached up above its other spires,as if standing guard over the ancient throne room's red-tile and stone arch roof, and parklands encircled the palace like a ruff of green lace.
Across the steam tram's cabin the envoy's three servants were observing the city as well. Theresla and Darien were the same age as the envoy, and all three women had their 'hair bound tightly and wrapped in scarves. Glasken wore a scarlet hat on which an ostrich feather bobbed.
"This is wonderful!" exclaimed Rosenne, clapping her hands as they passed within the flying buttresses of an ornate bridge whose extensions met above the trackway. "Unbelievable, fantastic, enchanting!"
"Wonderful," Theresla replied mechanically, attentive but less enthusiastic than her mistress.
Glasken was attentive too, but in the way that a bodyguard is attentive. The tramways had been laid to a plan, and that was to impress visitors arriving from other dominions. Two thousand years and six dozen generations of masons had made the city what it was, and nothing had been lost for a long time. Mounthaven's wars were not the type that laid cities waste.
The steam tram slowed as it approached the waystation and was switched into the Airlord's platform. The chuffing of the steam engine faded to hissing as the tram stopped amid acrid exhaust fumes and the sweet aroma of alcohol and seed oil. Wood-fired steam trams were banned from Condelor, as their exhausts soiled the stonework. Glasken opened the door and stepped out, then nodded to the envoy that it was safe. Inspector General Roric Hannan was waiting for the envoy, resplendent in the boulevard coat and gold chains that he was wearing for the viewing of the flypast later that day.
"The Airlord Designate's welcome to you, Semme Envoy Rosenne Rodriguez of Veraguay," he said in Old Anglian, with a manner that managed a mix of grace, dignity, deference, and superiority. "I am Inspector General Roric Hannan."
Rosenne bowed slightly, then looked Roric directly in the eyes.
"In all my travels from Veraguay, I have never seen such a beautiful city," she declared.
Hannan bowed again, the trace of a smile on his lips. She had said beautiful rather than magnificent, but she was nonetheless in awe of the capital. Greater Bartolica was indeed magnificent, beautiful, and more. Theresla and Darien stepped onto the stone platform and an official beside Hannan snapped his fingers. Two guards and a liaison clerk came forward.
"Your servants will be sent to prepare your new residence," Hannan told the envoy.
"I advise against it, Ladyship," Glasken rumbled warily. "My place is with you."
"Oh Juan, there is no danger," Rosenne replied. "I have all these Bartolican guards, but Theresla and Darien have only you."
"I was not hired to protect servants," Glasken replied firmly.
Hannan noted that Glasken had preserved his fitness against the years and wondered about the studded leather collar that encircled his neck. He was clean-shaven except for a heavily waxed and dyed mustache that sat like a spindle on his upper lip, and a pointed goatee beard. Theresla was obviously Rosenne's chief servant: she held her head up proudly and had authority in her every gesture. Darien stayed back and kept her eyes down, not saying a word.
Hannan took a deep breath. "Aureate, make sure that the servants of Envoy Rodriguez are taken to their quarters in the Enclave of Dominions. Give them whatever help they need to settle Semme Rodriguez and make her feel at home."
He gestured to a promenade barge that was tied up in the canal that flowed beside the tram station platform. The gilt-painted barge was about twenty-five feet long, and thesoft, whispery chuffing of a four-cycle compression engine was coming from somewhere beneath the decking. It was open on the sides, but the sun was held off by a red canopy fringed with green and gold tassels. There was no sign of any crew as the party stepped aboard and clipped their Call tethers to the retaining ring in the middle. One of the guards cast off the ropes and Hannan said simply, "The palace wingfield."
The note of the barge's engine rose a little in pitch as they pulled away from the quay and out into the canal.
"We Bartolicans like to keep the mechanics out of sight," said the guard captain as Glasken looked about in astonishment.
"And why is that, Sair Captain?" he asked in confident Old Anglian.
"So that they will not get ideas about being part of the vista, so that they will remember their places as mere cogs in a greater machine. There are men beneath the decking, although there is little more than a foot of clearance. They crawl about on their bellies, tending the compression engine and peeping through slits in the bow to steer."
"This is an impressive welcome."
"A stranger made welcome is a friend to be. You are just in time for the flypast of wardens and allocation of standing ranks for the coronation tomorrow. We Bartolicans take it very seriously, in fact three nobles died this morning in their efforts to get here in time for those ceremonies."
They glided amid gardens of flowering vines hanging down from the stone sides of the canal and trailing in the water. All the bridges were drawn back, even though the low barge could have cleared them easily. The captain explained to Glasken that they were in one of the fleet of royal barges, and nobody was permitted to be above any barge of the Airlord of Bartolica.
"That's the official story, at any rate. The truth is that a blind beggar named Rinol Harz pissed on Airlord Jumerilthe Fourth in 3791. The poor wretch was seized and shot before he'd even had time to lace up, then Jumeril had every bridge in the city put on hinges. The Yarronese later erected a statute honoring Sair Harz in Forian, their capital."
"So the Bartolicans and Yarronese are not on the best of terms?"
"Not for more centuries than the number of my lovers, no. We of Bartolica strive for the glories of the Age of Cybers. We seek to emulate the machines of that glorious time, using servants instead of cybers, all the while striving to rebuild the cyber technology itself. The Yarronese wallow in grease and rivets without remembering what those rivets and that grease are leading toward. What is your level of technical achievement in Veraguay, Fras Glasken?"
Ah, the thin edge of civility that precedes the wedge of espionage, Glasken thought.
"I am only from Mexhaven, but the envoy often speaks of home. The land is mountainous, far more so than yours. They have walled roads, cable-cage railcars, terraced farmlands, and rangepens of cobarci."
"Cobarci?" asked the captain.
"They are like little, fluffy pigs, and are not affected by the Call. The villages are small, and there are only five towns with more than ten thousand souls. The cathedrals and universities are in those towns."
"But where do your artisans work?"
"They go where demand leads them."
"That seems unworkable. What about the governments and armies of their dominions?"
"The roads are built into the sides of mountains and are easily defended by the town militias. The Conciliar members have no specific capital or palace, they travel from town to town. They are artisans of organization, just like blacksmiths or tailors."
They passed the Enclave of Dominions, where the foreigndiplomats were housed. Rosenne said that it reminded her of a university: all parkland with ivy-shrouded buildings blending in with the trees. One tower nearby reached high above the trees, a conical structure with a circular gallery near the top. Hannan proudly announced that this was part of his mansion. Presently they passed through a gate in the wall of the outer grounds of the palace, and Hannan noticed a lone figure at one of the stone landings.
"Odd, that's Warden Stanbury," he remarked. "I wonder why he's not over at the wingfield for the flypast."
Warden Stanbury paced restlessly beside the palace canal, hardly believing that his governor was dead. Carabas had promised, and Carabas never broke a promise. "Your way will be clear for honors," he had said. Stanbury had thought the man had the ear of the Airlord Designate, and had not expected the disaster that had followed.
He plucked a sky-blue rose from a bush beside the stone barge quay and began methodically breaking the thorns off the stem and flicking them into the water. Carabas finally appeared in an oargig with another man rowing, and both of them wore the uniform of the merchant carbineers. He beckoned Stanbury to join them. The well-mannered Carabas was in his late forties, and although he walked with a slight limp he was as lean, strong, and fit as any warden in his prime.
"It is chronicled that roses were never blue before the engineers of the twenty-first century took a hand to them," said Carabas with a neat, circular gesture to the bloom in Stanbury's hand.
"What of him?" Stanbury asked, looking to the lean but muscular rower.
"He knows all that I do, Warden Stanbury. You may speak safely in front of him."
Stanbury stepped into the oargig and they pulled out into the center of the canal. There were other boats on the water, all full of noisy excursionists and bedecked with flowers.The rower began to pace a barge in which a brass band was playing.
"Well, how did you do it?" hissed Stanbury, his heart pounding.
"I do a great deal, Sair Stanbury," replied Carabas. "To what do you refer?"
"The gunwing crash that killed the Governor of the East Region!"
"The Inspector General's inquisitors have been over the wreckage but found nothing."
"That's just the field inspection. The guild scrutiny will not be so easy to escape."
"There is nothing obvious to find, a mere pinprick in the bottom of the atomizer's floatwell, nothing more. A stick of wax sealed it shut initially, but the bypass pipe on which the stick rested became hot and caused the wax to melt within a half hour. After that the engine began to burn an unreasonable amount of compression spirit. The fire burned all traces of wax from the engine, and who would notice one tiny hole extra amid all the other damage?"
"So your people did do it. That's bad, the hole will be found when the pieces are scrutinized in the guild chamber."
"Good, it is meant to be found."
Stanbury flopped back in his seat and flung the blue rose into the water. The enigmatic carbineer clearly had agendas that he could not even guess at.
"Flight guildsmen guard their wardens' gunwings better than they guard their own balls. How did your people do it, are they Callwalkers?"
"If you learned the truth, Sair Stanbury, your hands would be too unsteady to take your gunwing up for a duel."
Carabas leaned back, waving one hand in time with the music from the barge up ahead. Stanbury folded his arms and shuddered.
"Did you have to kill him?" Stanbury asked in a voice that was barely audible above the music.
Carabas shook his head as if chiding a foolish child. "The Governor killed himself, good sair. The sweep of the Call is only nine miles deep, he could easily have glided to a field, road, or pond beyond the sweep and made a forced landing once the compression engine died."
"That would have delayed his governor's arrival until after the coronation seating had been declared."
"Ah yes, but what is a life against an event? Alas, he was determined to land at the palace in time to secure a place that befitted his rank in the coronation ceremony. He paid the price of hubris and ambition."
Stanbury had the look of a dirkfang cat cornered by a gang of birdherders, even though the day was warm, sunny, and tranquil, and Condelor resembled nothing more threatening than one huge carnival.