Chapter 1: Letters
July 8th, 1944
Dear Mr. Connor,
Despite your best efforts to discourage me, I have written a manuscript, and you will find it enclosed. I am sending it to you not because I think you have any influence and can help me get it published-- and certainly not because I want to hear your thoughts on it-- but to taunt you with my disregard for your advice.
Tracy and Dexter send their regards. I mentioned to Mother that I was writing you, but she has forgotten who you are. After I reminded her, she asked me to enclose her regards, but I suspect they are not sincere.
August 1, 1944
Dear Miss Lord,
Consider me taunted.
For the record, my attempt to "discourage" you was in fact a kindly warning meant to encourage you in other pursuits. For example, you are a gifted pianist, or at least a strange pianist. It so happens I wish someone had advised me when I was nineteen to follow a path more rewarding and less exhausting than that of a writer.
I know you're not interested in my thoughts on your manuscript, and that you typed up a second copy to send me just because, and for no other reason, but here are my thoughts anyway:
Your writing is very good. You move between very large things and very small things, sometimes breathlessly, and you tell everything with a sympathy that is beyond your years. I especially like the story titled "Home in the Rock." I assume your sister has not read it?
Lastly, please remove the semi-colon key from your typewriter, if it has not already been destroyed from overuse.
August 4, 1944
Dear Mr. Connor,
You are full of it; you think being a writer is the keenest thing anyone could ever be, which is why you always feel so superior to everyone, and resentful of their comforts. I use the semi-colon here for further injury.
Tracy hasn't read "Home in the Rock" or any of my other stories. Tracy likes to improve on me the same way she likes to improve on herself, so she's always full of stern advice, and I didn't want to hear it.
Also she probably would not like to hear of my circulating thinly-veiled retellings of her marital misadventures, especially since some of the details were delivered to me in confidence, which I suppose is a great betrayal. I trust you will keep my secret. If you don't, I'll just tell her you've flipped your wig. You are a writer, after all; Dexter says I myself am destined to drink heavily and beat my wife. Mother looks very upset whenever he says it.
Dexter has read the story and likes it, but as you know he's a strange sort. He could read anything about himself and would only be philosophical about it. He's nearly impossible to embarrass; I know because I've tried. He's charmed by anything that has gentleness in it, and I guess prose has that.
Tracy asked me last time to send her regards to Liz Imbrie, but I had already sent my letter, so here they are belatedly. I think she is trying to make some kind of point by extending them, but I don't care about it.
August 10th, 1944
Dear Miss Lord,
Your insights are good vis-à-vis my arrogance. But please do not write a science fiction story about me. You are wrong on one count, however: I do still have a little bit of imagination. If I had to pick the keenest thing a person could be, it would probably be something like a czar or a pope. Or a wizard.
I greatly admire that you trust I will keep your secret even as you acknowledge that writers are in the business of betrayal. I think Tracy would like your story very much, whatever confidences it contains, if you weren't her sister and she didn't feel responsible for you. Grown-ups are weird about the insights of children. I will try to find a proverb to that effect in case you ever want to write a story about it.
Speaking of which, I recently came across this Chinese proverb that you might find useful in conversation at one of your high society parties, if not your fiction: "The friendship of a gentleman is insipid as water."
Thank you for extending your sister's regards to Miss Imbrie. Please tell her to mind her own business.
Sept 2, 1944
Dear Mr. Connor,
Your admonition to become a wizard is too late. I just got a notice in the mail that "Home in the Rock" has been accepted by a quarterly magazine called Astounding Wonder Stories. The story will run under the pseudonym Haydin Conte in the Winter issue, out in October, and I expect you to buy it.
I would buy your works, only I understand you resent being supported financially, which I'm sure has nothing whatsoever to do with your difficulties in making a living.
Your request to not be written into a science fiction story is also belated; clearly you are the insane copyist in "The Atlantean Reel."
I like that Chinese proverb. I don't spend more time with high society types than I have to, but maybe I should seek some out just so I can compare them to water.
I bought a book of folk wisdom for the sake of sending you some quotations in exchange, but most of the collection turned out to be home remedies and advice on farming. I did like this Russian proverb: "The nightingale can't be fed by fables." I'm not sure what it means, but it reminded me of you.
I am also prepared to advise you on farming.
Sept 17, 1944
Dear Miss Lord,
Congratulations on having your first story published! You are now well on your way to being under-appreciated and bitterly disappointed.
But in all seriousness-- congratulations. It is an uncanny alchemy, to have strangers' eyes pour over your writing, but the right alchemy, the best alchemy, could make the smallest imaginings into gold.
I like your pseudonym; it's very George Eliot. No one will suspect that you are actually a nineteen-year-old Main Line debutante who has cobbled together an impressive amount of life history simply by spying on other people for her whole life.
That is quite a melancholy axiom. If a nightingale can't be fed by fables, you and I shall surely starve.
PS. With the greatest reluctance, I convey to you fond regards for Tracy from Miss Elizabeth Imbrie.
Sept 21, 1944
Dear Mr. Connor,
I'm very proud of the pseudonym; I have had it in mind since I was fourteen. "Conte" is French for "count"-- a synonym for "Lord"-- but it also means a fairytale or short story.
It also sounds like an impolite word that Tracy once socked me for using. Probably a hundred years from now some scholar will assume I meant it as a coy allusion to my sex, but really it was a happy accident. (That part did not occur to me when I was fourteen.)
"Haydin" is an anagram of Dinah, of course. It derives from the Old German word for "heathen."
Sept 21, 1944
Dear Mr. Connor,
I was too excited about explaining my pseudonym to you. I have more letter to write.
First of all, thank you for your congratulations. I have no concerns about bitter disappointment, as you have properly prepared me, unlike the person who introduced you to authorship, apparently, who I can only suppose was William Shakespeare. (That was an allusion to your lofty expectations, not to your age, although that too I guess.) Furthermore, I have cleverly distanced myself from disappointment by using a pen-name. If people like me, then I can take on their praise of Conte at will; if they don't, I can distance myself by feeling that he is some other person. And it may be that I can add to my oeuvre by having adventures of my own soon.
Nov 8, 1944
Dear Miss Lord,
I have nothing to say about this impolite word you reference except that whatever tavern you visited sometime between the ages of fifteen and eighteen ought to be ashamed of itself. "Heathen" is right.
Also, in my defense, my expectations were not that I would be revered as a writer but that I would be able to do my craft, like a man who makes chairs or necklaces, and still eat.
Let me also assure you that, however people understand or demonstrate notice of your astounding wonder story, it does not mean that they do or do not like you. That is my only real message: that whatever the future holds people definitely do like you.
Nov 25, 1944
Dear Mr. Connor,
Dear sir, please do not believe that you must defend yourself from me. Remember that I am the one who re-introduced you to Mother, who now insists that we invite you for Christmas. Please do not be so proud as to refuse.
PS. Re: tavern, I will give Uncle Willie your regards.
Chapter 2: Home in the Rock by Haydin Conte
Rock-badgers are but feeble folk, yet they make their homes in the rock.
-- Proverbs 30:26
The Lady of the Assemblies was named Lisieux March-- Lisieux was her maternal uncle’s surname and March was her father’s-- but Theo called her Red for the auburn hair that fell around her shoulders.
Theo’s full name was a tremendous burden, overstuffed with patronyms, and hadn’t been written out by anyone in its entirety since he was five. In formal functions, he was addressed as Alcaeus Philiscus Theophrastus Virgil, but even that was an abbreviation. Since childhood he’d been known as Theo to his friends, and that’s what Lisieux called him, even later, when they weren’t friends.
Lisieux was the daughter of a Callistoan oligarch, and Theo was the Imperial Governor’s son, but they’d married each other for love, and not politics, even though the politics of it were propitious. Everyone knew it was love because it ended horribly.
Callisto was the last moon of Jupiter to be absorbed into the Tharsisian Empire, which had its metropole on Mars and its fortunes spread out from the Sun as far as Pluto.
The conquest of Callisto had been accomplished nearly 60 years ago in a series of bloody battles that had cost nearly sixty thousand lives, most of them Callistoan, and many of them civilian. Broken remnants of the once-powerful resistance movement had fled to an unregistered existence on Jupiter, spending the remainder of their days in poverty or compromise.
Awan March had been four years old, then. He'd grown up hearing his father, a deposed duke, talk at great length about the family name, its nobility and prominence, stretching back ten generations or more. For all his grief, he had held onto that prominence as Lord of the Assemblies, a local governing body, and the March estate had weathered the storm of conquest and tripled in size by the time the old man was laid to rest. Awan had doubled that estate. Tharsis was mechanized; it wasn't interested in extermination but in commerce and stability. For all its brutality, the conquest by Mars cost the March family its official title, a third of its power and the lives of three stablemen, where countless other families had lost everything.
The March legacy was one of resilience. Awan had handed it proudly to his son Enoch, who had rejected it, and then to his eldest daughter Lisieux, who had fled with a daughter's softness into the shelter of her father's attention. There had been disappointments there, as well, though nothing that compared with Enoch's. Lisieux had married the Governor's son and then divorced him in a fit of pique-- a potentially dire injury to their position in the Jovian system-- and it had fallen again to Awan to ingratiate them with the Empire. For children everything was simple. They never cared where their wealth and autonomy came from.
Another industrialist, Marten Dodd, had been born nearly twenty years after Awan March, and on Europa, so he'd never known anything but the Pax Martiana. His father had fought in the war against Tharsis and had apparently come back from it angry and violent and ashamed, but Marten didn't know him well enough to say whether he would have been otherwise.
Marten ran a conglomerate of manufacturing enterprises that produced pieces of spaceships, primarily in factories scattered over Jupiter, which was sufficiently vast enough to avoid labor regulations. Marten also owed a great portion of his wealth to espionage. Everyone who held power in the Jovian system was in check against Tharsis, particularly the politicians, who owed their power to both the Empire and the native populations who despised it. Even the magnificent were in a position of defense. His father had been a mere solider for a lost cause, but by trafficking in secrets Marten Dodd held hostage the attention of a hundred powerful men on a dozen heavenly bodies. He had no sons of his own. He had three daughters, but he never talked to them.
Marten met Enoch March when Enoch was 27 years old, traveling Jupiter with his childhood friend Theo, the son of the Imperial Governor of Callisto. Enoch and Theo were on the lam from their other lives, Theo divorced, Enoch apostatized of his father's will. By then Enoch was one-fourth an opiate addict and three-fourths a mechanical engineer, a brilliant man who loved his sisters and whose love was only impersonal one-fourth of the time. He did some contract work for Marten while Theo sequestered himself in their apartment, a recovering alcoholic, reading books and watching newsreels, feverishly turning his own virtues and vices over and over in his mind.
Meanwhile, there was another man of Enoch's age, the son of Ionian merchants, who had been born into less fraught but humbler straits. He considered himself a member of the Tharsisian Empire because he'd never had any reason not to. His parents hadn't been less persecuted by the Ionian Republic than by the Imperial government, so they'd borne it with the same wry grace.
He wasn't married, but he had six children who helped him with his small but growing trade circuit. He had been married once before, briefly, to a young artist who was alive with curiosity and desire, who wanted to see all the moons of Jupiter. In retrospect, she had married him simply because she wasn't sure what else to do with her interest in him, but she had been kind to him in the end. His name was Joe Smith.
Marina March née Lisieux planned out every detail of the ceremony for Lisieux's marriage to Guy Hallman with immaculate care, as though it weren't the second time she'd planned and executed a wedding for Lisieux.
Nearly every surface in the main house was covered with wrapped presents or pressed flowers or floating lanterns or folded sheets of delicate fabric. Lisieux herself seemed not to pay it much mind; she moved from room to room frowning down at contracts and news briefs, occasionally glancing up to answer her mother's questions about seating arrangements or to peer skeptically at floral centerpieces.
She did make time to spend with Guy, particularly in the week leading up to the wedding. She was radiant, then, laughing and joking and doling out hugs to her mother and sister and uncle and even some of the servants. To her family, the radiance had an edge of self-satisfaction to it-- but to everyone else, to Guy, she was a woman who had worked everything out. A nearly perfected person.
Lisieux was warm, as warm as sunlight; in most circles, particularly social and political ones, Lisieux had a reputation for being hard-- opinionated, incisive, intolerant-- but it was an incomplete picture. She was particular but affectionate; she was poised, had been groomed since birth to command attention and respect, but she liked to rough-house. When she and Guy went for rides together, she would inevitably shove Guy off of his hovercraft and into the dirt, rolling on top of him, and laugh with delight when Guy pushed her back. She played with her sister like that; she played with Enoch like that during the rare times he wasn't traveling, no matter how old they got, yelling and squealing as they raced each other through the house. She and Theo had used to play like that.
But Lisieux rarely played with anyone outside the household, notwithstanding her cutting wit and her droll repartée. Lisieux didn't have friends-- only colleagues and lobbyists and high society hangers-on, whom she barely tolerated, and members of her constituency. So it always came as a surprise to those few who moved from the outside to the inside. Guy often looked surprised by it.
Guy was good at recovering from surprise, though. He was good at moving through complexities without noticing them, and when he did notice, he looked nonplussed for the moment that it took him to reduce facts, shave off edges, mold his perceptions to his expectations, and then he was smiling down (or up) at beautiful, powerful, radiant Lisieux March again.
Two days before the March-Hallman wedding, Theo rolled in from the red slopes of Amalthea and deposited himself in his old home in the capitol city without saying anything to anyone, though on average he was good at keeping up with friends and acquaintances. He had been gone for two years.
He greeted the butler and the housekeeper warmly-- and then the cook, when the butler called her back to duty-- but even in the midst of that warmth it was clear that Theo was not available for conversation; that his intention was not to catch up with the people who had raised him but to pursue some serious end.
He had two strangers with him, a man and a woman. They were less warm.
"Nice set-up you have here," said Trevelyan Pommery, sitting in the south parlor of Theo's childhood home, swirling 100-year-old Jovian cognac in a crystal glass. He was addressing Theo but peering suspiciously at the butler. "Very blood money."
"You'll have to forgive Trent," said Susanna Jonsson, though she didn't look particularly invested in either Trent's discontent or Theo's reaction to it. "He hates it when things are nice."
"You're going to have to get used to nice things if you're attending a wedding in the March household," Theo said dryly. "Remember that you're supposed to be friends with Enoch March. Your contempt might clue them in."
Trent scowled down at his drink. "Whatever."
"Maybe we can pass it off as food poisoning," said Sue. She was examining a small, framed portrait of Theo's grandmother.
"Why are you doing this, again?" Theo asked, smiling.
"Well, what else are we supposed to do?" Trent groused.
Sue poured herself some more cognac. "You gave up on prostitution too quickly, Trent."
Trent's mouth twisted wryly but not without amusement. Theo watched them for a long moment. They leaned with effortless familiarity toward each other, slumped in their respective upholstered chairs, and everything in their bearing spoke of weary, half-hearted complicity. Finally, Theo said, "You really aren't very good spies."
Trent glanced up at Theo. He looked affronted, even though it was clearly true that he wasn't a good spy, or an experienced spy, or someone who had any kind of healthy relationship with artifice. "You aren't a very good ex-husband."
"No," Theo said. "I'm definitely not."
Fifty-one years ago, the Imperial Governor of Callisto seized land on the Eastern side of the Nerrivik River and began mining a rare, glittering pyrite known in the Empire as white iron.
The conquest by Mars was recent enough then that it hadn't occurred to anyone to be outraged about the seizure of property-- in the grand scheme of things, a relatively unremarkable brutality. Only Callistoans of the highest social standing had any sense of their own inalienable rights, and speaking out against the mines might have cost them that privilege. So the land was emptied of inhabitants, and the mines opened.
In its first years of operation, the mining project employed several thousand Callistoans, from laborers to engineers, who were paid wages in accordance with tables that had been standardized throughout the Empire. That was how the Governor and his ministers spoke of it: an economic recovery plan. And even though 80% of the profits went back to Tharsis in the form of favorable contracts and tariffs and taxes, the economy did recover. Thousands of households relocated to be nearer to the mines. Twenty years after the mines opened, acid runoff began to poison the tributaries of the Nerrivik, devastating the population of glass perch-- a slender, blue fish that had sustained local populations for a thousand years-- and fishing communities were likewise devastated, and whole villages abandoned-- but by then the economy had shifted to white iron.
There was a reservoir of white iron sleeping under the ground, a vast network of mineralized hydrothermal veins stretching for hundreds of miles in a chain of foothills north of the capital city. It wasn't the largest rural deposit of white iron, but it was one of the largest on the continent.
It was owned by a small subsidiary company, ostensibly non-profit, of a holding company with its primary place of business on Ganymede. The controlling interest was held by Awan March, who was selling the land to Martians.
Lisieux knew about it.
She and her father had fought bitterly over it. They were not on speaking terms, and Awan was invited to attend Lisieux's wedding only at Guy's insistence. Awan had removed himself to Europa, taking all his things with him, even though Lisieux's mother-- who had grown up on the shores of the Nerrivik, whose family had made its fortune on glass perch-- had said nothing, had done nothing but stare dismally into the middle distance as her eldest daughter made war.
It was all a great secret, of course.
Lisieux sat in the study adjoined to her bedroom and listened to the sounds of a ship docking nearby, sick with resentment. Her red hair was gathered in a messy chignon, bound loosely with clips, and she had pages and pages of polling data around her. The wedding ceremony required a male relative to escort the bride into the groom's arms, and the part would be played the next day by Lisieux's maternal uncle Augustus, while her father sat in the audience-- but it didn't make Lisieux feel any better or worse. It certainly would have no effect on the perch population.
Her satisfaction was far away from her, somehow. It was deep below the surface: her own vein of white iron, which could not be mined without poisoning something.
Lisieux heard an excited yell in the garden, probably her little sister running across the yard to greet the new arrivals, and then the droll, affectionate tones of their father's voice. She pushed a loose strand of hair out of her face, staring neutrally at the report in front of her.
A grave fear: to indulge; to be wrong. To do harm, like her father did harm.
It was a testament to Marina March's quiet competence that until noon on the day before the wedding, the March household was tranquil.
Servants had been installed at the home of Marina's brother, in the great ballroom, which had been finely dressed and supplied, and the March manor itself was resplendent. A cadre of caterers and tailors and mechanics were waiting on retainer on the grounds, and the honeymoon ship was fueled and docked nearby, though Lisieux could only take five days-- not the full month, as she'd done with Theo on the True Love.
Lisieux was sitting companionably with her mother and sister in the north parlor, bent solemnly over an economic report, when the clock struck noon and the first of many things happened for which Marina could not have been expected to account.
There was a light tap on the door, and then Theo was there, Lisieux's ex-husband, letting himself in the same door he'd been letting himself in since he was six years old, already grinning quietly at his audacity.
Lisieux's dropped her report numbly to her lap as Theo's eyes met hers.
His gaze skipped over to her sister and mother, where he smiled warmly, then back to her.
Even in the first blush of their love, Theo looking directly at Lisieux had been something fascinating and yet difficult to behold. It was mostly laughter and delight-- even later, when the laughter turned cruel-- but beneath that was a serious expression, a watchful expression, like a background over which smiles and grimaces were passed. It was appallingly confrontational. It spoke of intimacies, even when he was on the attack.
"No," said Lisieux, rising from the sofa, shaking her head. "Absolutely not."
"Relax, Red," said Theo. "I brought you a wedding present."
"Theo..." said Marina, likewise rising, brow creased with concern. Theo's expression softened. He touched her arm; she put her own hand over top of it, and he bowed his head deferentially.
"I promise, Mother March," he said, leaning down to kiss her cheek, "I really did come to bring a wedding present. And two friends of Enoch's."
"Friends of Enoch's?" Marina asked.
"I don't want your wedding present," Lisieux said, arching an eyebrow. "You can drink it yourself."
Theo laughed and looked up from Marina's embrace. "It might do you some good, Red. You look a little unrelaxed."
"Sober, actually," she said, gathering her papers. "I'm not surprised you don't recognize it."
"How is Enoch?" Marina interrupted. She touched Theo's lapel. Her son's absence was an open wound. "You say he sent people in his stead?"
"He's terribly sorry he couldn't make it, Mother March, but he's just at the end of an important project." In truth he was in an addiction recovery clinic: only one of the reasons Theo had interceded in the unfolding intrigue in his stead. "He thought you'd like to meet his associates Susanna Jonsson and Trevelyan Pommery. Old school friends, I believe--"
"You're lying," said Lisieux. Theo looked back over at her. "I can always tell."
It was true; she could always tell. The currents of intimacy flowed both ways, and Theo wasn't a secretive man anyway. He was slow to anger but mouthy, and he moved between guarded and unguarded in absolute measures.
It had endeared him to Lisieux nearly their whole lives until something changed-- he had changed, or she had changed, or their straits had changed-- and somehow the truth they trafficked between them became bitter.
He watched her poised, disdainful face for a long moment; eyes hard; mouth a thin, rueful grimace. He patted Marina's shoulder soothingly.
"Fine," he said. "I'm lying."
Lisieux's dress for the ball was long and cream-colored, flowing in arched lines from the high collar to the flared, ankle-length hem. Around her waist was a cummerbund studded with white iron; thick sequined bands of Ionian silk and white iron spread upward from it to her shoulders, then down her three-quarter sleeves. The effect was graceful and geometric, and the white iron sparkled as she moved, silver and glittering like the sun-lit hull of a ship.
And she was a ship-- she was a ship of state, moving out of port into her new life.
She was headed to the parlor to join her mother and sister when the passed the open doors of the library and paused. Theo was there, back turned to her-- the long, unmistakable line of his shoulders in his grey jacket-- tinkering with something on the desk.
"Enjoying some refreshment before the party?" Lisieux asked, watching with satisfaction as he startled. "The better sherry is in the cabinet."
Theo looked over his shoulder, already smiling ruefully, sober as stone. "No refreshment necessary." His eyes moved down her dress and then up again, barely perceptible. He said all sorts of impolite things, but he could almost always be trusted to behave like a gentleman. "Sorry, Red, but I won't be joining the party. My job was to deliver the spies, and I've done it."
"Your job," she scoffed. It roiled nauseously inside her-- both the return to her conflict with her father, which she hated to think of, and Theo's participation in the unfolding drama. The March family was being blackmailed by Marten Dodd, an industrialist who knew Enoch, who somehow knew about Awan March's deal with Tharsis. Enoch was indisposed, apparently-- so Theo had stepped in on his behalf to insinuate spies into Lisieux's wedding to some end that only Marten Dodd knew. Theo was protecting Lisieux's family and her political career. There was no other reason for Theo to be involved. It was hypothetically possible that he was protecting the interests of the Empire-- but not even at their worst would Lisieux have believed that of Theo. If anything he was too apolitical, too unaffiliated; a sensitive man who attended to the immediate and little else. Her mouth pinched. "You're loving this."
He smiled, as though he could hear her confusion. "Am I, Red?"
She squinted imperiously at him. "What are you doing here, then, if you've deposited your cargo?"
"Soon enough, your Excellency," Theo said. He stepped to the side, and Lisieux could see a portable display node in the middle of the desk. "Just depositing your wedding present."
"You had our divorce papers framed?" Lisieux smiled. "How sweet."
"Not quite, your Excellency."
The false smile dropped off Lisieux's face. "Stop calling me that."
"Shouldn't I?" Theo lifted a teasing eyebrow. "As a member of your constituency--"
"You aren't a member of my constituency, Citizen," Lisieux said.
Theo's face darkened. They watched each other across the ornate library for a long moment.
The truth was that Theo did consider himself a member of Lisieux's constituency, and always would, for all that he was a Citizen of Tharsis and thus ineligible to vote in the Assemblies. (It was a paltry gesture on the part of the Empire-- since any law or ordinance passed by Tharsis was enforceable on Callisto, regardless of the will of the Assemblies-- but the Lady of the Assemblies and her people clung to it.) Theo disdained Lisieux's haughtiness, and certainly it was a vice-- but Theo also could not have understood how embattled Lisieux's sense of pride was. As the Governor's dissolute son, born into the seat of dominance, he was autonomous, and he struggled to understand things beyond the personal: a conqueror who considers himself a man of peace, who is resentful to find himself suddenly considered to be at war.
"Unlike your man Hallman," Theo said quietly, "I was born six miles from this house."
"In the lap of luxury."
"Yes," he quipped, standing in the middle of her family's opulence, "you couldn't imagine what it was like."
Lisieux narrowed her eyes. "We worked against fortune for what we have, and so has Guy."
"So has Guy," Theo parroted, throwing his hands into the air. "You shouldn't compare yourself to him. He's not like you! He doesn’t believe in the same things as you."
Lisieux snorted. "What do you know about my beliefs?"
"Everybody knows about your beliefs, Red." Theo smiled meanly. "I don’t know if you realize this about yourself, but you do go on."
"I'm so sorry to have bored you. Now you're free to maintain your infantile, drunken--"
"Never bored, Red--" Theo said, crossing the floor to her, shaking his head, gearing up. "But no one could ever be as fascinated by you as you are. You're far and away your favorite person in the world." He bared his teeth. "You can't look away."
Lisieux's mouth tightened, and then her whole expression stilled. Theo was certainly right, she couldn't look away; it was a vigil, though, and not a vanity. And in that state of vigil Lisieux was always ready to hear the worst about herself.
"You seem quite contemptuous of me all of a sudden," she said dully, taut and braced for impact
"Not contemptuous of you," Theo said, knowing her too well, knowing her dangerously well, already imagining her wide eyes and her recoil. "Contemptuous of something inside of you."
Lisieux lingered in the library after Theo left, pressed against the door frame and staring at the thick, brightly-colored carpet.
After several minutes, she made her way over to the cabinet and poured herself a glass of sherry. She drank it quietly at the desk, and when the glass was finished, she wrapped a hand around the display node that Theo had left. She flipped a switch at the base of the small dome, and the stem lit up, and a projection flickered to life above it. It was a three-dimensional model of a spaceship; a glowing arrangement of foreshortened beams of light.
It was the True Love-- the ship that she and Theo had sailed around the Jovian system after they were married. Theo had designed her and then spent nearly three years helping to build her. In another life, Theo would have been a craftsman, an artisan, drafting designs in a thousand notebooks, plying his skill decade after decade with serenity and focus. The True Love was beautiful work.
Lisieux passed her fingers through the shimmering, insubstantial flank of the ship. There was a metaphor there, surely-- but even now it was hard to think of the True Love like that. The ship was probably rusting in some scrap yard by now, but while she flew she'd certainly been nothing but real. She was yar.
By the time Lisieux entered the North parlor, she had a second sherry in her belly. She moved down the hallway in her beautiful dress, feeling removed-- bruised but grimly fortified, as when a fever breaks. As with a young lady rising from the floor after emptying her stomach, wiping her mouth, preparing to rejoin her family as though nothing is wrong.
She pushed open the door and met her father's eyes.
"Daughter," said Awan March, sitting on the sofa with his arm along the back of it, Lisieux's mother sitting companionably close.
She hung in the doorway for a moment, face blank for a moment before it creased into a loose sneer, and then she walked over to the waiting brandy decanter and poured herself a drink. "What a pleasant surprise." She turned back to him, cupping her glass. "Certainly Guy will be glad to see you."
"What a beautiful gown," said Marina. "Awan, doesn't she look lovely?"
"Quite," Awan said dryly. "Positively statuesque."
"You're looking fine yourself," Lisieux said, smiling. She held up her glass. "We are honored to see the Empire so represented at our humble gathering."
"Lisieux," her mother said reprovingly.
"Don't think you can manage Lisieux, Marina." Awan didn't look away from Lisieux's face. "She trusts no one's judgment but her own."
"And whose judgment should I trust?" Lisieux arched an eyebrow. "Yours?"
"A quaint Callistoan custom, to listen to one's father."
Lisieux set down her glass, baring her teeth. "What would you care about Callistoan customs?"
Awan rolled his eyes, and Marina held up her hands, one palm to her husband and one to her daughter. "There's no reason to talk about this again, and we've already had enough disruption. Let us have peace for the wedding."
"Peace," Lisieux sneered. "In this enclave. How nice."
"No, Marina," said Awan, "Lisieux won't stand for peace. So let's have it out then--" Awan waved his hand at his daughter, mouth a hard line. "Make war until the battlefield is bloodied."
Lisieux shook her head. "You act as though I created this situation. You're the one making deals--"
"For the good of our people," said Awan.
Marina was right, for the most part; there was no reason to talk over the matter again. All positions had already been aired-- nearly all the accusations and insults already slung-- but the argument drew them along, like water to the low places of the land.
"For the good of some people," Lisieux said. "While anyone who lives off the Nerrivik--"
"With the revenue from the mines we can subsidize the affected towns with food pallets--"
"Food pallets which are imported from Mars. We're only increasing our dependence on Tharsis."
Awan stood and crossed to the sherry cabinet, pulling out a bottle and a glass. His mannerisms were mostly the same as Lisieux's-- graceful and efficient, tightly controlled, becoming in the heat of anger only more poised and deliberate.
"We are dependent, child."
"Deeper and deeper," said Lisieux, watching her father. "They’ll turn Callisto into another Earth— is that what you want?"
Awan turned to her with a look of weary contempt. "My wants have no bearing on the matter; nor do yours. You're too old to be asking such childish questions."
"Oh, certainly, a man of pure reason," Lisieux spat. "Why should you be held accountable for your decisions when they are only reasonable?" She had three drinks inside her, and she wasn't keeping pace with her father's cool reserve. "Just admit that you don't care."
"Of course I don't, daughter," Awan replied, looking at Lisieux through narrowed eyes. "I’ve given my life over to public service for my good health."
"I’m sure the money and power had nothing to do with it."
"Lisieux," Marina said, "stop it."
Awan smiled. "I imagine it has had just as much to do with my work as it has with yours."
“You don’t know anything about my work.”
But even as she said it, Lisieux heard Theo’s voice again saying, you do go on.
"I know that I am still apologizing to the Governor and his ministers over the embarrassment with his son," Awan said lowly. "Perhaps if you made better decisions as a politician, I wouldn't have to labor so to repair your messes." It was already a killing blow-- it wasn't impossible or even unlikely that others would suffer from the mistakes of Lisieux's heart-- but Awan continued. "Don't you think I would like to be at home, retired, and attend to my own amusements and not the good of Callisto? But how can I?" His face hardened with disapproval, with possibly the first stirrings of real disdain. "You're always so sure you know what's right."
"You don't know what I think," Lisieux said hoarsely.
Awan returned to the sofa with his drink, replacing his arm along the back, unperturbed, looking coldly into her face. "Your dislike of peace and compromise is quite clear to everyone, daughter." He lifted his glass to her, an echo of her gesture to him. "By all means, continue conducting yourself as you decide you must. I'll continue cleaning up after you."
It wouldn't do to be late for one's own ball, so Lisieux refilled her brandy and left the North parlor through the open veranda doors, out into the garden, a coiled spring, a woman moving numbly over the hard ground. She took the path around the house to the garage, where a valet was waiting to escort her, and she slid herself into the back of a car with her beautiful dress pooled around her.
Awan March remained in the parlor, staring out into the dark yard, his wife's hand tight around his arm.
Theo, for his part, was in his own home, sitting in his own library. His jacket was thrown haphazardly over the back of his chair, and his shirtsleeves were pushed up. There was an open sketchbook in front of him with half a design for a new ship, as-yet unnamed-- but both of his hands were set down over top of it while he stared blindly at the far wall, heart hammering.
In all truth, Lisieux was rarely entirely sure what was right, and her father knew it, and Theo knew it, but all that was immaterial.
Whatever else they were, they were a cohort of decent, deep-feeling people all trying to hurt each other.
The spies were in attendance at the wedding of Lisieux March to gather intelligence on three men-- a director of inspections and two loan brokers-- and it would have been more horrifying that they were victimizing three of Lisieux's guests, only the two spies did not seem terribly invested or even actively engaged in their work.
Sue moved dutifully through the crowd, presumably recording footage through some hidden device, but she never got very close to her targets. In fact, she seemed to spend most of her time avoiding the attentions of Uncle Gus and scowling at Trent, who spent most of his time leaned against the bar, gulping down expensive champagne. Trent began to wander through the crowd as the evening wore on, around the grand ballroom, out over the terrace and through the garden and back, and all of his resentful wariness gave way to wonder.
Lisieux followed a similar trajectory.
While Guy moved through the guests, shaking hands and accepting their congratulations, Lisieux danced and drank, and the hard facts of life became soft as feathers. By the end of her third glass of wine, the spies had ceased to be any concern and were merely charming-- and by the end of her fourth glass, everything was easy; even seeing her mother and father dance was easy. She could see them from a distance, and she could see herself from a distance. Well-meaning, monstrous Lisieux March: she was a great nuisance, but she worked hard, and she was surrounded by people who loved her. She could feel their love.
By the time Trent and Lisieux met accidentally on the terrace, they were both warm to the core-- Lisieux took hold of Trent's arm, delighted.
"Hello, you," she said, smiling.
He grinned down at her. "Hello, you." He held up an open bottle of champagne and said, "I'm taking this down to the garden!" like it was the best idea anyone had ever had.
"Wonderful," Lisieux said. "I'll join you."
She wound her arm through Trent's and led them down the path into the garden. At the far end there was a stone bridge that crossed a creek, and beyond that the path split, and they took the path to the right, Lisieux tugging on Trent's sleeve, saying conspiratorially, "This way." She led them to a secluded clearing at the top of a hill, lined in stone benches and looking out over a valley that glittered with fireflies. The Cyclops eye of Jupiter gazed benevolently down on them, and the beautiful tawny bead of Io moved beneath it.
"Would you look at that," breathed Trent.
"Let's have some of that champagne," said Lisieux. She held up her glass, swaying to the music that carried out over the grounds from the ballroom. Trent put his hand on her waist and danced her over to a bench, turning her in a loose, slow waltz. She fell back against the bench, laughing. Trent poured her a full glass and then put the bottle to his mouth. It was uncouth, but it seemed magical-- it seemed marvelous, that they would share that contact between them. She smiled softly up at him. "Did you enjoy the party?"
"The lap of luxury," Trent scoffed, but there was no heat in it. He slumped himself onto the bench beside her. "Everybody kept asking me about your old brother Enoch. Theo was skinny on the details so I had to make a bunch of stuff up." He grinned at himself. He looked so different when he wasn't scowling-- Lisieux reached out and pressed two fingers to his cheek, but Trent only grinned wider. "Apparently your brother is dating a gymnast from Ganymede and has started wearing his hair long."
Lisieux laughed. She dropped her hand and looked into her glass wistfully. "I hope he has."
"You don't talk to him much?"
"No. He stays gone for a couple of years at a time, and he rarely calls or writes. When he does write it's nothing of substance."
"That's family," Trent murmured.
They drank in silence for a while, Trent humming along to the music, Lisieux harmonizing off and on, both of them watching as the white-grey cap of Europa crested the horizon. When Lisieux drained her glass, Trent moved to fill it again, but Lisieux took hold of the bottle and drank from it, putting her mouth where Trent's had been.
She set the bottle down between them and said, "Enoch," before pausing to clear her throat. "I was twelve when he left for the first time. I, I don't know why, but I was terrified. I came here to Uncle Gus's house without telling anyone and hid in a loft in the stables over down that way." She pointed down the shadowy trail to their left. "After a few hours I felt so ashamed that I'd done it. I was too old to behave that way. I ran away out of fear and then. Then I was too ashamed to go back." She felt Trent's fingers touch her hair, just like she'd reached out to touch his face. She wondered if she looked different under the planet-light, just like he had. "It was night by the time Papa found me."
"Was he angry?" Trent asked quietly.
"No," Lisieux said on a sigh, remembering her father's gentleness and relief. "He wasn't angry." She huffed a soft laugh, swaying on the bench, and looked over at Trent. "You know, I've never told anyone that." She patted Trent's leg, and they smiled at each other. After a moment, she added, "Well, one other person."
Trent wrinkled his nose. "Not Hallman, I assume."
"No, not Hallman," Lisieux said softly, then she stilled. "Wait-- why not Hallman?"
Trent shook his head, and his smile fell away. The look of distaste on his face deepened into a scowl. "That's not a fella you tell secrets to. Not important ones."
"I'll have you know that Guy is a life-long civil servant. He is deeply committed to the security and well-being of--"
Trent held up his hands. "Yeah, yeah, campaign speech, got it. I don't mean state secrets. I mean the real secrets." He tapped his chest. "The undertow."
"The undertow," Lisieux said dully.
"Yeah, too messy for someone like Hallman. Too much flotsam, too much moving in too many directions. Maybe you could trust him with secrets." Trent shook his head again, as though it were unthinkable, obscene, that someone would eschew the untidy. "But he wouldn't want to hear them."
Lisieux looked back out into the night sky, mouth pinched. "Flotsam, you say."
Just then, Guy's voice cut through the darkness, calling Lisieux's name.
Trent moved to stand, but Lisieux put a quelling hand on his arm. "Shh," she said, voice hushed, sinking low on the bench. "Not yet."
"She's probably gone back home to sleep, Guy." Her mother's voice.
Guy said something indistinct made of short, fast sounds, the angry tones unmistakable. Trent and Lisieux held still while the voices retreated back up the path until finally Lisieux released Trent's arm, letting out a slow breath. Trent huffed a quiet laugh. He threw an arm around her, and Lisieux sank companionably against his shoulder, and he pushed up the loose hem of her sleeve, running a hand over her bare arm.
He said, "Don't think I don't know about your flotsam, Lisieux March."
Lisieux shook her head, red hair moving against Trent's lapel. She said, "You're a better spy than you let on."
In Trent's absence, Sue called Theo to check in and also to get a ride home, and when he arrived she stared at him with a sort of bleary tolerance. It was nearly four in the morning.
"How was it," Theo asked, helping her into the car.
"I have hours of fascinating footage," Sue said, watching the starlight out of the car windows. "I am finally prepared to make my documentary film on hors-d'oeuvres and wheat prices."
"Will Dodd accept what you have?" Theo shot Sue a concerned glance as he pulled onto the short road that led to the March estate.
Sue waved a drowsy hand, still not looking at Theo. "He'll make do." She made a soft sound that would've been a snort if she'd been less tired. She murmured, nearly to herself, "You'd think a man with so many of his own secrets wouldn't be in the market for more."
Theo shot her another glance. "What do you mean?"
Three cups of coffee later-- including one with a special stimulant additive, which Theo handed to Sue, saying, "I drank this when I was trying to get sober"-- Alcaeus Philiscus Theophrastus Virgil had an itemized list of every illicit act Marten Dodd had every committed, that Sue had document proof of, as well as a tidy cash endowment for Sue and her fellow spy and the deed to a property in the south of Callisto, in case they needed a place to hide out for a while. Trent wasn't around to consent, so Sue made the decision for him. She seemed to not consider it overmuch-- just waved the cup of coffee toward herself, beckoning at Theo, saying impatiently, "Yes, okay."
Theo and Sue returned to the March estate just as the sun was rising. Theo was crossing through the backyard of the manor to his car when Guy appeared at the top of the stairs that led from the gatehouse, looking savagely ill-tempered.
"Where is she?" he said.
Theo lifted an eyebrow. "Morning, Hallman. You're looking well."
"Don't play your games with me. Where is Lisieux?"
Theo frowned and opened his mouth to reply, but the low tones of singing caused both men to turn. Together, they watched as Trevelyan Pommery came around the manor building from the bath house, holding in his arms a bundle of cream-colored fabric wrapped in his own jacket and topped with red hair. Lisieux's arms were wound around the spy's neck, and her head lolled placidly against his shoulder while he warbled a peasant song. He moved carefully, watching his own steps on the ground, crooning, and didn't look up until he was only a few strides away from Theo and Guy. Then he stopped short, and Lisieux lifted her head and blinked at them.
"Darlings," she said.
"I've been looking for you all night," Guy said.
"I'm sorry, Guy," she said, though she sounded more drowsy than sorry.
"Where have you been?"
"Under the lamp light." She smiled softly as she said it, but Guy scowled and shook his head impatiently. "What does that mean?" he asked.
Lisieux turned back to Trent and folded herself again around his neck. "Trevelyan and I are friends," she said. "I told him everything."
Theo raised his eyebrows, and Guy lowered his.
"Everything about what?" Guy demanded.
Lisieux laughed against Trent's collar, and Trent grinned helplessly, though he was undoubtedly not following the conversation any better than Theo was. Lisieux curled her head down so that she could peer at Theo through her lowered lashes. Theo caught her gaze, standing behind Guy in the back door of Lisieux's house, and smiled wonderingly at her. A corner of her mouth curved secretively.
"Bow to stern," she said.