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It's a big Spiral Arm, and the scarred man, Donavan buigh, has gone missing in it, upsetting the harper Mearana's plans for a reconciliation between her parents. Bridget ban, a Hound of the League, doubts that reconciliation is possible or desirable; but nonetheless has dispatched agents to investigate the disappearance.
The powerful Ravn Olafsdottr, a Shadow of the Names, slips into Clanthompson Hall to tell mother and daughter of the fate of Donovan buigh. In the Long Game between the Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery, Hound and Shadow are mortal enemies; yet a truce descends between them so that the Shadow may tell her tale. There is a struggle in the Lion's Mouth, the bureau that oversees the Shadows―a clandestine civil war of sabotage and assassination between those who would overthrow Those of Name and the loyalists who support them. And Donovan, one-time Confederal agent, has been recalled to take a key part, willingly or no.
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Michael Flynn is the author of the Firestar series of novels, and is an Analog magazine alumnus whose fiction now appears regularly in all the major SF magazines. He lives in Easton, Pennsylvania.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
I. RIFTWARD: THE FIRST COUNTERARGUMENT
Swift we sped, your Donovan and I,
Toward the Rift that rends the stars
Apart, we plied the boulevards that bind them.
Sooner far than I had sought for
Woke he from those slumbers so awarded
That he should wake when waking no more mattered.
Wroth he was at being thus abducted
And for some time the issue lay in doubt
Between us. E’en I must sleep,
And in that sleep lie open to his guile.
I shall place distance ’tween my tale
And me, and speak of Ravn as I do of others;
And thus relate as would a goddess grand
Who sits benign atop the world and, glancing down,
Sees all things in her ken with even eye.
And so ... It begins.
The scarred man awoke muzzy-headed in a dark, close room, confused at where he was, and tangled in wires and tubes. The last clear thing in the jumbled closets of his mind was his buying of a ticket to Dangchao Waypoint, and for a fuddled moment he wondered if he might be within that very ship, already on his way.
But if so, he was grossly cheated, for he had purchased third-class fare on a Hadley liner and, of the many things his present accommodations were not, a third-class cabin on a Hadley liner was one. The room was barely large enough to contain the thin, hard bunk on which he lay and, when that bunk had been stowed into the wall, the room grew paradoxically smaller: a pace and a half one way; two and a half the other. It was the half pace that galled.
It was a room for keeping prisoners.
“Fool,” said the Fudir, once he had removed the catheters and intravenous feeding tubes that spiderlike had webbed him in his cot. “We’ve been shanghaied.”
“How long were we asleep?” Donovan asked.
* * *
There is this one thing that you must know about the scarred man; or rather, nine things. It is not his hooked chin, nor his sour humors, nor even the scars that interlace his scalp and leave his preternaturally whitened hair in tufts. It is that he is “a man of parts,” and those parts are the pieces of his mind, shattered like a mirror and rearranged to others’ whims. It is in the nature of the intellect to reflect upon things; and so a mirror is the proper metaphor, but the scarred man’s reflections are more kaleidoscopic than most.
The singular benefit of paraperception is that the paraperceptic can see different objects with each eye, hear independently with each ear, and quite often the right hand knows not what the left is doing. This has advantages; and would have had more had the scarred man’s masters not been ambitious or cruel.
Early in Donovan’s service to the Confederation, the Secret Name had gifted him with a second personality, the Fudir, which enabled him to live masqueraded as a petty thief in the Terran Corner of Jehovah while Donovan ran Particular Errands for Those of Name. But if two heads are better than one, ten heads must be better than two, and the Names had later, after Donovan had displeased Them in some small matter of galactic domination, split his mind still further. They had slivered his intellect and made of him something new: a paraconceptic, able not merely to perceive matters in parallel, but to conceive ideas in parallel. This was the ambition.
It was also the cruelty. They had imprinted each fragment with a complete, if rudimentary, personality, expert in some particular facet of the Espionage Art. The intent had been to create a team of specialists; though the consequence had been instead a quarrelsome committee. For the hand that split his intellect had misstruck; and the blow had split his will as well.
Though perhaps the blow had been true, deliberate, a part of his punishment. Perhaps at the last Those of Name had flinched from the prospect of too great a success. Those had made an art of punishment, and the connoisseurs among Them would often contemplate the intricacies of a punitive masterwork with something close to aesthetic joy. “Kaowèn,” they called it. The scarred man had been conceived initially as a human weapon. But who would build such a weapon without a catch?
* * *
“Fool,” said the Fudir. “We’ve been shanghaied.”
“How long were we asleep?” Donovan asked.
I’m not sure, replied the Silky Voice. I seemed to fight the drugs forever.
The Pedant rumbled and blinked gray, watery eyes. If asleep, no more than three days. If suspended, as long as three weeks.
The Sleuth eyed the life-support equipment from which they had so recently disengaged. We were in suspension he deduced, not asleep.
That could be. Suspension would affect even me, back here in the hypothalamus.
remembered Inner Child.
Yeah? said the Brute. And where was you? You’re supposed to be the lookout.
Now is not the time for recriminations, a young man wearing a chlamys told them. We must start from where we are, not from where we might have been.
The Brute grunted, unmollified. He tried the door, found the jamb-plate inactive, and struck it in several likely places. Donovan did not expect it to open, and so was not disappointed when it failed to do so. A young girl in a chiton squatted nearby on her haunches, her arms wrapped around her legs and her chin resting on her knees. We can get out of here, she said.
Donovan turned control over to the Sleuth, who went to their knees for a closer study of the jamb.
The Pedant recognized the locking mechanism from his databank. A Yarbor and Chang lock. This ship is Peripheral-built.
“Probably hijacked by our gracious hostess,” muttered the Fudir.
Which means this room was not designed as a prison cell, said the girl in the chiton, whom Donovan liked to call “Pollyanna.”
So. Retrofitted ad hoc, said the Sleuth, and likely in haste. Yarbor and Chang ... so what?
Its central processor has a design flaw. A notice went out from their corporate headquarters on Gladiola two metric years ago. I remember reading it.
You remember everything, the Sleuth complained. He took the scarred man’s right arm and pointed. Pedant’s design flaw indicates that an electrical current passed across these two points—here, and here—will set up a magnetic field within the processor that resets the lock to zero.
“That’s nice,” said the Fudir. “So if we had a generator in our pocket, or a battery, and some wires, and could maybe do a bit of soldering, if we had a soldering gun—and some solder—there’s a chance we could get out of this room.”
“At which point,” said Donovan, “we would find ourselves in a ship. A bigger cell, is all.”
Hey. At least we’d have room to stretch.
“And where would we find wiring?”
And it’s not pitch dark in here.
He means there is a power source.
“I know what he means. Sleuth always has to be clever and elliptical.”
When he ain’t bein’ obtuse! The Brute laughed.
That the Brute was making obscure geometric puns irritated Donovan. Sometimes he didn’t know his own mind. Ever since his sundry selves had reintegrated, they had been learning from one another. The Brute was no longer quite so simple as he once had been; though it was not as though he had blossomed into the New Socrates.
The Fudir climbed atop the bunk, studied the Eye, unscrewed a housing with a convenient tool he kept cached in his sandal, detached the live leads—See? We didn’t need a power source—and pulled the cable, while simultaneously Donovan and the others considered what they might do once they had broken free of their prison.
“Take over the ship, I suppose,” Donovan said. “Slide to Dangchao Waypoint. See Méarana ... and Bridget ban.”
“Well, it might, a little.”
I wonder why she shanghaied us, said the Sleuth.
The lamp that was lit has been lit again.
What’s that mean, Silky?
Something she said. Something I remember from a dream. Pedant? You remember everything.
The corpulent, watery-eyed version of Donovan shook his massive head. Facts are my métier, not dreams.
The Fudir applied the leads from the Eye to the doorjamb, one above, the other below the point that the Pedant had identified. This ought to work, the Sleuth commented.
Of course it will, said the girl in the chiton.
Current flowed. Magnetic fields formed. Somewhere inside the door, registers zeroed out and reset.
Or were supposed to. The door remained shut.
The Brute stood and, perforce, they all stood with him. He pressed the jamb-plate—and the door slid aside into the wall. The scarred man felt a huge satisfaction.
warned Inner Child, who took control and peered cautiously into the corridor. To the left it ran four paces, ending in a T-intersection.
To the right ...
To the right stood Ravn Olafsdottr with a teaser in her hand and a splash of white teeth across her coal-black face. The teaser was pointed at Donovan’s head. “Ooh, you nooty buoy,” she said in the hooting accents of Alabaster. “Soo impatient! I wood have let you oot in the ripeness of time. Now you have brooken my door!”
“You should stop somewhere for repairs, then,” suggested the Fudir. “I was on my way to Dangchao, so you can drop me off on Die Bold if you’re going that way.”
Olafsdottr patted him gently on the cheek with her free hand. “You are a foony man, Doonoovan.”
* * *
Olafsdottr fashioned him a dinner of sorts. Food preparation was not her for...
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