Siege of stars book one.., p.1
SIEGE OF STARS
BOOK ONE of THE SIGIL TRILOGY
Produced by ReAnimus Press
By The Same Author
By The Sea
Futures from Nature (editor)
The Sigil Trilogy
Siege of Stars: Book One of The Sigil Trilogy
Scourge of Stars: Book Two of The Sigil Trilogy
Rage of Stars: Book Three of The Sigil Trilogy
The Beowulf Effect (forthcoming)
The Science of Middle-earth: revised edition
In Search of Deep Time
Before The Backbone
A Field Guide to Dinosaurs (with Luis V. Rey)
Shaking the Tree (editor)
Rise of the Dragon (editor)
All rights reserved
© Henry Gee 2012
The rights of Henry Gee to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The characters in this novel are not intended to bear any resemblance to any real persons alive or dead.
Cover Art by Clay Hagebusch
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For Karl, who gave his name to a small, destructive and (mercifully) fictional asteroid.
The germ of this story—or, rather, two germs—can be found in two SF vignettes I wrote in Nature, one pseudonymously. One, called Et in articulo mortis (Nature 405, 21; 2000) describes Post-Embryonic Petrosis as an evolutionary response to star-hungry dragons. The other, Are We Not Men? (Nature 435, 1286; 2005) reported the emergence of many hitherto-mythical hominids onto the world stage, including Sand Druids and Jive Monkeys. Perhaps ill-advisedly, I thought I’d put the two ideas together in a box and see what came out. The result is as you see.
I offer my thanks to Karl Ziemelis, Andrew Burt, Vonda McIntyre, Ian Watson, Jack Cohen, Brian Clegg, Bruce Goatly, John Gilbey, Richard P. Grant, Heather Corbett Etchevers, Jennifer Rohn, Chris Surridge, Peter Watts and all the residents of the LabLit community forums, and the many others who read various drafts of this book, for their continuing encouragement and comments. David Doughan and Adam Rutherford helped me with my Latin, and Tony Kerstein with my Hebrew.
Chapter 1: Salesman
London, England, Earth, May 1979
Gawan, that sate bi the quene
To the kyng he can enclyne
‘I beseche now with sazez sene
This melly mot be mine.’
(Gawain, who sat by the Queen
Towards the King inclined
‘I implore you, with a prayer plain
That this fight should be mine.’)
Anon.— Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Ruxton Carr knew he’d never forget that rainy Monday when She came into the shop. One reason he remembered (as he later tried to tell himself) was that Mrs T had just got in as Prime Minister. He felt an inner thrill—at just 18, he’d voted for the first time ever, his first general election. Mrs Thatcher supported people like him—young guys who wanted to do things, go places. No way was he going to be a salesman in Khan’s Electronics forever. The second, and never mind what happened next, was that She—that’s She with a capital ‘S’ (and not Mrs T, let’s make that clear) was not just anyone. She was special. You know that specialness, when you meet someone for the first time and you’re convinced you’ve seen them before? Special, like that.
He was giving this geezer all his Grade-A patter about a Japanese music centre, direct drive turntable, FM like crystal clear, dual auto-reverse decks with Dolby, brushed aluminium fascia, smoked acrylic hood, and a little beyond this punter’s financial comfort zone. He had almost succeeded—he was the best salesman in Khan Electronics by far (it was Ruxie’s weirdly cat-like yellow eyes against his dark skin, Mr Khan had said)—but that was when She arrived.
Purposeful, she brushed aside the glass door against the heavy weather of Tottenham Court Road, windswept, spattering raindrops all over the shop floor. She was tall, slim, in a tan raincoat with big lapels. Her face was very pale—as pale as he was dark. Her hair was long, intensely black, and completely unkempt. But the main thing was her eyes. Huge, round like an owl’s, black as her hair, and looking straight at him . She didn’t look pleased.
Ruxton panicked at first. Was she a customer storming in with a complaint? He’d served so many people. One after the other, blam blam blam, set and forget. Best salesman in Khan’s, remember? But no, if he’d sold her something he’d definitely have remembered. Maybe she was complaining for someone else? Husband? Boyfriend? But no, she wasn’t carrying anything, a broken radio or whatever, like angry customers usually did. Neither did he feel like he sometimes did when he was caught doing something he shouldn’t, like smoking or looking at girlie mags, which was as if they’d found him with his pants down. No—when he looked up and at her the thing that came into his mind was—of all things—skiing. Skiing? He’d never been skiing in his life.
“You’ve convinced me,” said the music-centre man. “I’ll take it.” Ruxie was brought back to life with a jolt. From behind the oblivious punter the woman’s eyes pierced him like lasers.
“Wha…? Oh yes, of course. My colleague will serve you. Rashid? Rashid ?” Ruxie beckoned at the new boy, who looked as hopeless as he usually did—or was he just stunned that Ruxie would give up a customer for anyone? A sale was a sale. Rashid got the message. He hurried over, all smiles, and led the customer to the till. There was nothing, now, between him and Her. She. Nothing except a display case full of personal stereos. And what she said was…
“What’s taking you so long, spaceman?”
She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Why does this always have to be so difficult? I said, ‘what’s taking you so long, spaceman?’” And then with one long, pale forefinger she touched his wrist and he felt the world spin.
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