To Ramsey and Jenny Campbell
How many times have I thanked Dan Breen for being my first reader? This is another time, and believe me, it’s heartfelt this time as well.
Dan, Dorothy Day, and my webmaster Karen Zimmerman archive my texts in widely separated locations. That way if the asteroid strikes while I’m still working, my publisher will nevertheless have the most nearly complete version of the manuscript. (Well, I suppose it depends on how big the asteroid is.)
Dorothy, Karen, and Evan Ladouceur provide help with continuity and in their various expertises. For this particular novel, Fred Kiesche and John Lambshead also provided bits of data which I needed. Silly as it may sound, I really will stop work while I search frantically for some point that not one reader in a thousand would notice if I got it wrong. The help I get from my friends is of much more importance than it might seem to a rational person.
Many people provide help for my writing. My wife Jo makes my comfortable life possible. I get very focused when I’m working, and I’m working just about all the time. That I’m healthy, well-fed, and live in a clean house is almost entirely due to Jo; we even have an active social life.
My sincere thanks to all those I’ve mentioned and to the many others who are part of my life and therefore of my work.
I’m going to try an abbreviated version of my usual boilerplate here: I translate the words my characters speak into modern English, and also I translate weights and measures into formats in current use.
It’s been a long time since anybody has complained about me using modern English instead of 19th century fustian as though I were a reincarnation of William Morris (heaven forefend!). I do get more or less polite queries about the weights and measures, though.
I generally use historical models in which to find plots for novels in the RCN series. In this case I formed the action on two incidents which occurred in the 5th century BC. One of these was the civil war on the island of Corcyra, a colony founded by Corinth. The other was the Egyptian revolt against Persia (during a period of Persian instability) and the Athenian expedition to support the Egyptians when Persia attempted to reassert control.
Neither of these things sounds very major, does it? Even if you know some classical history, it’s unlikely that you’ll remember either of them. But between them they led to the Peloponnesian War, which plunged the Greek world into a century of large-scale warfare; followed by Macedonian conquest (the Macedonians weren’t Greek by Greek law, any more than the Thracians or the Carians were Greek) and another century of war; and finally by Roman conquest and a peace of tourists and tax gatherers.
It’s very hard to predict where a present action is going to lead, but it’s a good bet that violent actions are going to lead to violent results; and those results may continue a long way down a very bad road. I suppose it’s fitting that the Roman general who completed the conquest of Greece did so by razing Corinth.
I used to think it would be nice if present-day leaders knew more ancient history. The reality is that Messrs Cheney and Rumsfeld didn’t seem to know anything about Viet Nam. Of course they hadn’t served in Nam, as I had.
Finally a note about the dedication. In 1977 Jo and I visited England—my first trip out of the country which didn’t involve me wearing a uniform. Friend and writer Ramsey Campbell and his wife Jenny put us up in Liverpool for two days. Jennie cooked us a full English breakfast (with kippers!) which was delicious, and Ramsey gave us a tour of Liverpool which included Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (AKA Paddy’s Wigwam).
The cathedral is a modern structure and has had more than its share of detractors (note the nickname; Liverpool is heavily Irish). That said, the interior gave me a feeling of peace and happiness which I’ve never felt in another building.
I’m not religious (and was raised to be anti-Catholic), so I didn’t expect to have a positive reaction. That’s anecdotal evidence, but it was (and remains) my truth. I moved the cathedral into this novel, and I decided this was a good time to thank Ramsey and Jenny for their kindness.
And all around the organ there’s a sea without a shore
Of human joys and wonders and regrets;
To remember and to recompense the music evermore
For what the cold machinery forgets.…
The Barrel Organ
Bantry Estate, Cinnabar
Daniel Leary, otherwise Captain Daniel Oliver Leary, Republic of Cinnabar Navy—but here merely “Master Daniel” or “Squire”—stood poised in the bow of the skiff with his arms at his sides. The throwing stick was in his right hand with the line nocked in the cleft and the lure dangling. Hogg knelt in the stern, holding the tiller/throttle of the tiny motor that edged the boat toward the floating weed.
The lure was a streamlined tube about the size of a plump man’s middle finger. Its batteries powered the caged contra-rotating props, but control signals came down the line from the handset now resting on the planks in front of Hogg.
When the lure hit the water, it would circle until it picked up the pattern of electrical impulses given off by the nerves of the species it was set for, then home on that source. It was set now for floorfish; two or three sprats would fillet into an excellent dinner for Daniel and Miranda, his fiancée, who was waiting in the manor.
Daniel tensed to make the cast. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, boy,” Hogg said. “Another ten feet, and don’t tell me your arm’s strong enough to cast into the center from here.”
The skiff continued to creep toward the weed. Hogg spoke quietly so as not to disturb the prey, but his voice was as harsh as a rough-cut file. Here off the coast of the Bantry estate their releationship was the same as it had been twenty years earlier when the old poacher took it on himself to teach the young master how to fish and to hunt, and how to be a man.
Teaching Daniel to be a man wasn’t part of a plan, but Hogg was a man himself and made assumptions. If he’d been asked, he would have said that Corder Leary wanted a son who would stand up for himself, who would carry out his duties, and who would take responsibility for his own actions.
Overhead, a trio of Barranca birds sailed southward, following the cold current which had bent toward shore during the volcanic eruption hundreds of miles out in the Western Ocean. The birds were so high that even Daniel’s sharp eyes couldn’t distinguish the two separate pairs of wings on each. The occasional low-frequency grunts of the birds communicating were barely audible, even to ears trained to recognize them.
Looking back on his childhood, Daniel suspected that his father had been too busy chasing money and power to spare any thoughts for the boy who lived with his mother on the Bantry Estate. Still, Speaker Leary wouldn’t have minded what Daniel was learning, any more than he would have cared about the weather over Bantry while he was comfortable in the Leary townhouse in the capital, Xenos.
Hogg switched off the motor. It was inaudible even while it was running, but Daniel had felt the vibration through the thin soles of his moccasins. The skiff drifted forward on momentum. Daniel swung his right arm up in parallel with the keel. At the height of its arc, his fingers released the line which he’d clamped to the throwing stick till that moment. The lure sailed off in a flat curve that plopped it into the center of the large patch of weed.
“A nice cast,” said Hogg softly. “You haven’t forgotten everything I taught you, I guess.”
“I haven’t forgotten not to draw to an inside straight, either,” Daniel said. He remained upright for a better view, though standing in the small boat would have been dangerous despite the skiff’s broad bottom if the water hadn’t been still and Daniel’s own balance perfect. The skills he’d gained as a boy on Bantry had been sharpened since he’d entered the Naval Academy and begun running along the spars of starships.
Instead of circling as expected, the lure vanished instantly. “It looks like it just sank,” Daniel said, squinting. He had a pair of multi-function RCN goggles on his forehead, but they wouldn’t help him look through the water. “Do you suppose the motor failed?”
“The motor’s running fine and the props are free,” Hogg said testily, looking at the readout on his control unit. “It’s just got a bite.
“Unless—” Hogg’s delay was too short to have allowed Daniel to speak even if he’d intended to. “—that bloody weed has caught it. It’s the deep-sea weed with thicker hair. But the lure seems okay.…”
He and Daniel were in the channel between Borden’s Cay and the mainland, but recent nor’westers had brought considerable oceanic debris through the inlets, including unfamiliar fish parboiled by the volcano. This patch of weed looked from any distance like the normal inshore variety; but as Hogg had said, it was the open-water species whose clumps were tied together by tendrils sturdy enough to withstand serious storms.
“Want to haul back the lure and try near the creek mouth?” Daniel said, frowning.
He was closer to the weed. He could have noticed before Hogg did that it was slightly darker than it should have been, but Hogg had spent most of his sixty years learning the tricks and whims of nature on the Bantry Estate. Missing something that Hogg also had missed wasn’t a good reason to kick himself.