Tomorrow afternoon from 4:30-8, you can find me at the Annapolis Barnes & Noble, signing copies of all my books and chatting with fellow authors Lea Nolan (ALLURE), Jon Skovron (MAN MAD BOY), and Andria Buchanan (EVERLAST). Catch me there!
Tomorrow afternoon from 4:30-8, you can find me at the Annapolis Barnes & Noble, signing copies of all my books and chatting with fellow authors Lea Nolan (ALLURE), Jon Skovron (MAN MAD BOY), and Andria Buchanan (EVERLAST). Catch me there!
So I go off and be Viv for one week and look what happens!
* For Darkness Shows the Stars is named to the 2014 Lone Star Reading List
* Across a Star-Swept Sea is named to the 2013-2014 Winter Indie Next List: “This novel has everything that I loved from Peterfreund’s previous book, For Darkness Shows the Stars, but with a story all its own: a fast-paced plot, a captivating post-apocalyptic setting, crazy-enough-to-be-plausible technology, and a simmering romance. Across the Star-Swept Sea is an enchanting amalgam of adventure, political espionage, romance, and science fiction, tinged with humor and wrapped in a sparkling futuristic world.”
* Across a Star-Swept Sea is given a starred review from VOYA. “Inspired by The Scarlet Pimpernel, Across a Star-Swept Sea places the mysterious spy adventure in a lush and terrifying futuristic world. The Galatean use of Reduction, brain damage through medicine, is eerily realistic, as is the Darkening (DAR), a dementia that is acquired by the Helo cure for Reduction. Persis fears for her Darkened mother, while Justen tries valiantly to complete his grandmother’s research to reverse DAR. Their attempts to not fall in love have a sweetness caused by two very likable and well-developedcharacters. This imagining of Earth’s future is a fascinating stand-alone but also a solid companion to For Darkness Shows the Stars.”
* Across a Star-Swept Sea is nominated for the YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers list.
Maybe I should take a split-personality vacation more often? I’m honored by these reviews and recommendations and so happy and grateful that people are enjoying my books. This series is especially close to my heart because I wrote it while pregnant and in the early years of life with my daughter, and I was so aware of the kind of characters I wanted to write for her. I just love Elliot and Persis so much.
Anyway, enough glamor for the week, I guess. I’ll be over here in the corner, in yoga pants and fluffy socks, drafting Viv’s next romance novel and plugging away on the revisions for Diana’s Omega City, which is so much fun, guys, I can’t even stand it. When is 2015 going to get here again?
I often get asked in interviews or on panels how I got an agent and a book deal. I think this is because of two reasons: 1) a lot of times, the people asking the questions are aspiring writers themselves, and 2) especially lately, the YA market has exploded and a LOT of the people being interviewed are debut writers. I feel kind of silly responding sometimes, because I got an agent in the days before social media, before these bizarre Twitter pitch-fests, and largely before even electronic submissions. (And it wasn’t even that long ago!) But some experiences are universal, and some advice doesn’t change.
I stumbled across your blog today while I was researching YA versus NA. I read a little more about you, and I just loved your attitude and personality.
I have written the first in a series of YA novels, and I’ve been seeking representation for approximately a year. I always knew it was a difficult market to tap, but I’m excited about my characters and their story, and the constant rejections is disheartening.
You don’t mention in your Q&A how long it took you to secure an agent… was that a difficult process? I am struggling to stay excited about my story (and write the next book in the series) when the feedback I get it all so negative. But I do understand that if it was easy, everyone would be published! Any advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
It took me four years and five manuscripts to get an agent and a book deal. I didn’t even start looking for an agent until I wrote manuscript #4, because before then I was writing category romance manuscripts which, at the time, I believed were of much less interest to an agent. The first time I looked for an agent was ten years ago. It was a very different industry then (plus I wasn’t querying YA). I had to send out snail mail packages with self-addressed, stamped envelopes in order to receive a reply. I sent out 20 submissions and got 18 passes over the course of about 6 months. Two agents still had manuscript number four when I started querying manuscript five. That one I queried to four agents. I got three offers (the fourth one didn’t respond in time) within a week. Then I sold it.
I say this because I think if you’ve been querying a single manuscript for a year, it is time to write and query your next book. The dirty little secret about submissions is that with the right book, getting an agent is a pretty straightforward process.
There are all kinds of reasons you can get passes that have nothing to do with the quality of the book. For instance, if the YA manuscript you are querying is a vampire novel or a dystopian, you should know that this is a very, very hard sell right now. Publishers and agents have lots of these on their lists already — they have some they can’t sell. They are unlikely to take on another.
You say in your email that you are writing a series. Stop. Do not write subsequent books in a series until you have movement on the first book. Your writing career is not about one book or one series. Even the writers of megabestselling series like JK Rowling or Stephenie Meyer have written multiple different books. Suzanne Collins wrote many books and even TV shows before she wrote the Hunger Games. George R R Martin had a robust, award-winning, book and television career for several decades before he published A GAME OF THRONES.
(I said above I got an agent with the fifth manuscript I wrote. It was the first in what became a series. I have written and sold/published four other series since then. Your writing career will be many things.)
There is this fantasy now of the total newbie sitting down and pounding out some kind of lunatic bestseller. Meyer woke up from a dream and started typing. Veronica Roth was a college co-ed. It’s romantic, but it’s not the only story. Most writers have long paths, where many manuscripts fail to find a home, and many books get published without superstardom following.
You say the feedback you’re getting has all been negative. What do you mean by this? Do you mean you’re getting rejections on your queries and no requests at all? If you are getting zero requests from your query, it means there is a problem with your query. There are classes you can take, essays you can read, or you can find critique partners. There’s lots of good resources out there: Verla Kay’s Blue Boards might be a good choice if you’re writing YA. Having critique partners can also help keep your spirits up if you’re getting rejections.
And I want to reiterate again that my favorite cure to feeling like you are getting nowhere with your manuscript is to write a new manuscript. My friend and mentor Julie Leto wrote a great article about this. There are problems in early books that you cannot solve, but you can use what you learn to avoid making those mistakes again in later manuscripts.
I hope any of this is helpful to you. Good luck!
I’m so excited! Today marks the release of my tenth novel, ONE & ONLY. It’s also the debut of my romance-writing alter-ego, Viv Daniels, and my first leap into self-publishing.
One night they can’t forget…
Tess McMann lives her life according to the secrets she’s sworn to keep: the father who won’t acknowledge her, the sister who doesn’t know she exists, and the mother who’s content playing mistress to a prominent businessman. When she meets the distractingly cute Dylan Kingsley at a prestigious summer program and falls in love, Tess allows herself to imagine a life beyond these secrets. But when summer ends, so does their relationship — Dylan heads off to Canton College while Tess enrolls at the state university.
One love they can’t ignore…
Two years later, a scholarship brings Tess to Canton and back into Dylan’s life. Their attraction is as strong as ever, but Dylan has a girlfriend…who also happens to be Tess’s legitimate half-sister. Tess refuses to follow in her mother’s footsteps, which leaves her only one choice: break the rules she’s always followed, or allow Dylan to slip away for a second time.
…And only one chance to get things right.
To celebrate the release of One & Only, I’m taking off (virtually) on a weeklong blog tour with dozens of stops, I’m doing interviews, sharing teaser posters, and writing lots and lots of guest posts — everything from playlists and dream movie casts to glimpses into my past and the inspiration for the novel. Plus, an insane amount of giveaways. Every blog is doing its own unique giveaway plus there’s a tour-wide extravaganza. Here’s where you can find me:
Friday, November 8, 2013
Monday, November 11, 2013
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Friday, November 15, 2013
I love this book. Tess and Dylan wormed their way into my heart big time. They’re two really great kids and I adored having the chance to give them a happily ever after. I’m so glad everyone else gets to meet them now, too.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I shall be in New York next week. If you want to see me and get copies of your books signed, here’s where you’ll find me.
I will also be stock signing and tweeting other places I might pop up. If you find me, I have SWAG.
LADY JANE’S SALON
Monday, November 4, 2013
7 PM – 9 PM
94 West Houston Street
New York, NY 10012
Click to view a Google Map
Hope Tarr takes off her Lady Jane’s Salon® co-founder hat–tiara–to read a sneak peak of HONEY (Fate Series Book #2) and sign copies of SUGAR. Also guesting: Mari Mancusi, Diana Peterfreund, Hanna Martine and Lise Horton.
Teen Author Reading Night
November 6, 2013
Jefferson Market Branch of NYPL, corner of 6th Ave and 10th St
Sean Beaudoin, Wise Young Fool
Matt de la Pena, The Living
Carol Goodman, Blythewood
Adele Griffin, Loud Awake and Lost
Ellen Hopkins, Smoke
Alethea Kontis, Hero
Mari Mancusi, Scorched
Jacqueline Mitchard, What We Lost in the Dark
Diana Peterfreund, Across a Star-Swept Sea
Jordan Sonnenblick, Are You Experienced?
Sean Williams, Twinmaker
Today I’m so excited to reveal the cover for my pal Rori Shay‘s debut novel, THE ELECTED.
Rori and I met about a year ago when we realized we lived in the same neighborhood. She was agented and still chasing after that elusive first publishing contract, I was published and between agents, and we both had little girls almost precisely the same age. Playdate city! The kids took to the slides while we talked publishing for, like, hours. Now we occasionally ditch the kiddos with our understanding husbands and hit up a local bar for our marathon publishing-talk session. Because, priorities.
The Elected is a future-set dystopian novel, but the characters are what those kids are calling “new adult” these days. In this terrifying, war-torn world, a young woman, marked by birth to be a leader, is forced to pretend to be a boy.
As you might imagine, I’m all over that. And here’s the cover:
In the year 2185, Aloy must masquerade as a boy to claim her country’s presidential role and save her people.
Aloy’s father is the current Elected, the leader of the country, just as her grandfather and great-grandfather were before. Her older brother should fulfill the role, but he disappeared eighteen years ago. Without an Elected, East Country would fall into civil war. With no one else to take his place, Aloy’s parents cut her hair and told her that she could never be a girl again. To assume the role, she must conceal her gender at all costs. If discovered, she risks execution.
In two weeks, Aloy will turn eighteen and take her father’s place. She hopes to govern as he did, but she is inheriting a different country. The long concealed Technology Faction is boldly stepping out of the shadows and, as turmoil grows within East Country, cryptic threats arrive from beyond their borders. After generations of isolation, Aloy knows nothing about their only neighbor, Mid Country. And, East Country doesn’t have the resources to defend itself.
As she struggles to lead, Aloy maintains her cover by marrying a woman, Vienne, but battles with feelings for Griffin, the boy who knows her secret – the boy who is somehow connected to East Country’s upheaval. When assassination attempts add to the turmoil, Aloy doesn’t know whom to trust.
Aloy knows leadership requires sacrifice. She just didn’t expect that the sacrifice might be her life.
Teaser Excerpt: One blonde curl is wrapped lusciously around my pointer finger. I gaze down at it and then force my eyes upward to drink in the image of my face. Long blonde hair trails past my shoulders and onto my back. In the cracked mirror, my eyes squint, trying to capture this one fleeting picture of myself as a girl.
This is what I could look like if I weren’t forced to masquerade as a boy.
The day I thought might never come, as I waited, lo, this long, long year (and more) for the time when my book, Across A Star-Swept Sea would finally be out in the world. And now it is! Go forth and read…
Some release day announcements:
“Retelling Classic Literature”
YA Panel and Signing
When: Saturday, October 19, 2013, 3:30-5:00 pm
Who: Diana Peterfreund and Jon Skovron (MAN MADE BOY)
Where: Hooray for Books, 1555 King St. Alexandria, Virginia 22314
When: Saturday October 19, 2013, 1:30 PM
What: Live webcam show
YAlit Writing Panel
When: Sunday, October 20, 2013, 2 p.m.
Who: Hannah Barnaby (Wonder Show), Diana Peterfreund (Across a Star-Swept Sea), Jon Skovron (Man Made Boy), Cristin Terrill (All Our Yesterdays)
What: a discussion on developing characters, building unique worlds and powerful plots, and creating impactful stories for teen readers.
Where: One More Page Books, 2200 N Westmoreland Street #101 Arlington, VA 22213
EXCERPT: You can now read the first 6 chapters of the book for free online.
READING GROUP GUIDE: Download PDF here.
PLAYLIST: Check out the Across A Star-Swept Sea playlist and read why each song was chosen on the Pitch Dark site here.
In one more day, my ninth book, Across A Star-Swept Sea, will be out in the world! To celebrate, I’ve been posting chapters:
Read the latest below, enter the giveaway at the bottom of the page, and be sure to pick up your own copy this week!
Warm silk cradled her cheek, and sunlight dappled coral along the insides of her eyelids. Slowly, Persis emerged from sleep. Her limbs felt like washed-up seaweed, and her body ached as if she’d swum for miles. The soft sway of the hammock was her only comfort. She tried to open her eyes, and a dagger of pain sliced through her temples.
Memory flooded into the wound. The mission. The genetemps. The young Galatean on the docks. The one who’d said his name was—
Heedless of the pain, Persis forced her eyes open. Justen Helo. She’d been too out of it on the boat to question the Galatean’s claim. She’d been too out of it, even, to figure out a way to avoid giving him passage after he’d helped her.
Andrine should have known better than to let some stranger on the boat, even if his name was Helo. Persis must have been very sick, indeed, for her friend to have taken the risk. At least Andrine had brought her back home to Scintillans. But what had become of Justen Helo?
There was a soft chirp and the sound of claws against the polished bamboo floorboards. A tug on the silk of the hammock near her legs and then she felt the familiar weight and warmth of Slipstream wriggling up her body and curling into her arms. His whiskers tickled against her skin as he snuffled his otter-like face into the crook of her elbow. He blinked at her, his enormous, round eyes filled with concern.
“It’s all right, Slippy. I’m home,” she whispered.
“And awake,” said a voice beyond the folds of her hammock. Persis clutched Slipstream tightly. “That was sooner than I expected. You must have a great constitution.”
With effort, Persis sat up. The sea mink snuggled against her, his velvet fur sun-warmed and dry, which meant he hadn’t gone fishing yet this morning. Justen Helo stood by the steps leading to the garden, little more than a dark blotch against the sunlight. Her privacy screen hadn’t been drawn, which left the panoramic views of the Scintillans cliffs beyond the edge of the garden open wide before her. Though she’d woken to the sight nearly every morning of her life, Persis now blanched. She didn’t need a Galatean revolutionary—she didn’t need Justen Helo—to see how opulent her bedroom was.
“How long was I out?” she asked, hating the way her voice crackled over the words. Persis tried to recall anything specific about him, but the only thing that came to mind was a vague memory of a story from childhood about his parents dying in some sort of reg riot, leaving Justen and his sister orphans.
He’d clearly grown up since then.
“All day and night,” he said, his tone still formal, medical.
Which meant that he’d already been here in Scintillans for a day? How did she hope to explain that to her parents? Her father had forbidden visitors, lest anyone see her mother during one of her spells. Even Andrine knew not to come up anymore, thought she didn’t know the reason. What had her friend been thinking, to dump Justen here?
Probably that no one in New Pacifica would deny a Helo hospitality.
“Are you in pain?” he asked, his tone somehow containing both concern and command. Maybe Andrine hadn’t had a choice about leaving him here. Justen had insisted on caring for her on the boat. Maybe the medic—a Helo medic! The mind boggled—felt his duties were ongoing.
“Not as much as I probably should be,” she replied. “I’d been led to believe that genetemps sickness was more severe.” Tero had given her an earful about it before he’d handed over the drugs he’d concocted.
He should have spent a bit less time lecturing and a bit more coding.
“It usually is,” Justen said, drawing nearer. He was slim of build, this Galatean, with natural dark hair cut close to his head in proper revolutionary fashion. High, sharp cheekbones like spear points gave his face a severe, serious air—or maybe that was the glare he was shooting her from beneath his pointed black eyebrows. He’d be handsome—if he ever cracked a smile. His eyes were very dark and very keen, and he wore an expression that reminded Persis more than a little of the images she’d seen of his famous grandmother. He placed the back of his hand against her forehead. It was cool and dry. No wristlock. No palmport. His nails were short and neat but unpolished. “But I’m pretty good at what I do. I caught you early.”
Persis swallowed with a dry mouth. Caught?
“Next time you go to Galatea to party, Lady Blake, I suggest you stick to safer intoxicants than genetemps. And not just because of the risk of sickness. If the genetemps isn’t properly formatted for breakdown, you might get stuck with the code for life.”
She nodded, then gingerly maneuvered her legs over the side of the hammock. To party. She was safe, then. And grateful she’d had the wherewithal, even in the grips of genetemps sickness, to craft a believable excuse for her condition. If Justen thought she’d accidentally overaged herself, he’d be unlikely to connect her to the crone who’d just liberated his nation of an entire family of besieged children.
Though he was also certain to find her beneath his contempt.
Tero Finch was a dead man. She couldn’t wait to get her hands on the young gengineer, provided, of course, that there was anything left once his sister, Andrine, had her shot. She was surprised she couldn’t feel the tremors from whatever eruption must be going on at the Finch house down in the village. Bad coding? She had half a mind to send a strongly worded flutter to his old gengineering instructors. And she was done letting him fiddle with Slipstream’s code whenever he wanted. Her pet was a sea mink, not a guinea pig.
As she put weight on her aching legs, Justen turned his head to the side in an expression Persis recognized from her mother’s nurses. It was the gesture of a medic seeking to allow his patient some privacy. Justen Helo, the medic. A Helo. Standing in her bedroom.
Persis tugged at the thin fall of seafoam silk until it covered her upper thighs and stood. Slipstream slid from her lap and landed, light as a cat, on the floor. Her hair had been washed clean of the paint she’d used in her old-woman disguise, but she had yet to see if the genetemps had left any permanent damage to her face.
Wouldn’t that be a fun bit of news for the Albian court! The Lady Persis Blake, disfigured on an ill-advised pleasure trip to Galatea. She really would kill Tero if that was the case.
And more than seeing her reflection, Persis needed to find out what had happened to the Wild Poppy’s cargo. As soon as she reached her bathroom she engaged the privacy screen, closed her eyes against the pain still thrumming across her skull, and summoned her focus for a flutter.
The next thing she knew she was sprawled out on the smooth onyx floor, her cells screaming for mercy.
Above her, Justen’s voice sounded foggy, distant: “—idiot aristo.” She felt a pinprick against her arm, and the pain subsided. Persis blinked until her vision cleared.
“Hey,” he said. “Listen.” He waved her own left hand before her eyes. It was floppy, loose on her wrist, the bright golden disk of the palmport blurring against her skin. “You cannot use this thing until you fully recover. You hear me?”
Persis cringed. She’d ignored Isla’s warning, but the princess had been right. Genetemps was a bad idea. Forget what the drug might have done to her face. It apparently made her stupid, too. She knew the energy requirements of a palmport, and had been well aware that she didn’t possess them at the moment. She pasted her best “Persis Flake” face on and giggled. “I have to use my hand, silly.”
He dropped her hand like it was a piece of rotting fish and stalked out of the bathroom, grumbling something under his breath that sounded to Persis like “useless.”
Good. Useless was the impression she needed to make. Clearly, she was off to a good start convincing Justen Helo.
Shoving herself to her feet once more, she reengaged the screen and pulled the lever on her bath. A rush of hot mineral water flowed into the high-backed basin, and Persis tugged off her shift and slipped into the slightly sulfur-scented water. She didn’t even bother with perfumes. The obsidian wall above the bath was polished to a high sheen, and she checked out her reflection. Bloodshot, baggy eyes, but that was probably the sickness, not any lingering effects of the genetemps itself.
“By the way,” came Justen’s voice from the other side, “your friend gave me a message for you. The one with the blue hair?” His tone dripped with disdain. “She said she took your packages straight to your tailor.”
More good news. Persis slumped in her bath, allowing a small smirk at the thought of the league’s medic, Noemi, being called a tailor. Noemi would hate that. But she would know what to do for the children. Persis leaned her head back as the heat soaked into her aching muscles. “Thank you.”
Thank you, Justen Helo. Persis covered her face with her hands and groaned. Her whole life, she’d imagined what it would be like to meet a member of that famous family, perhaps when she went with Isla to one of Queen Gala’s parties. But it had never happened. Instead, this was what happened: Justen Helo had saved her life, and she’d thrown up on his shoes. So much for the elegant, charming Lady Persis Blake.
There was silence for several minutes on the other side of the screen, long enough for Persis to contemplate falling asleep again. But Justen couldn’t leave well enough alone. “Lady Blake? Do you plan to be very long in there?”
“Am I keeping you from an appointment, Citizen Helo?” She knew the Scintillans servants would have seen to all Justen’s needs, not only because he was Persis’s guest but because of his famous name. Regs would do anything for a descendant of the Helos. Justen was no doubt considered a model citizen back home.
And that’s why letting him wander around out there unattended might not be the best idea. With a groan, Persis pulled herself up to a sitting position in the warm, soothing water. She’d soak her bones later. For now, she needed to deal with the Galatean revolutionary standing in her bedroom.
She dialed in the instructions to her bath, which promptly responded with a flow of frangipani-scented water. Rinsed and perfumed, she emerged, dried off, and garbed herself in an ocean blue kimono that covered her from neck to foot. Properly armed, she exited the bathroom only to be greeted by an empty space. She looked around in confusion, and spotted Justen outside in the garden, near a table set with breakfast for two. He was kneeling on the vibrant, manicured lawn, while Slipstream balanced on his hind legs, his long neck stretched up as he begged for the bit of manguava cake Justen dangled over the sea mink’s glossy black nose.
“He’ll balance treats on his nose if you want,” she said from the steps, squinting as the full sunlight hit her face.
Justen tried it and sat back on his heels, impressed. “Very well-trained pet you have.”
“That’s what my father paid the gengineers for.” Persis turned her attention to the sea mink. “Slippy, end!” Slipstream flipped the cake off his snout and caught it in midair as Persis stepped off the stairs and onto the soft, loamy earth of the lawn. “Ever seen a sea mink before?”
“We don’t use gengineering for personal pets in Galatea,” Justen said, rising to his feet. “just for stock animals, guard beasts, stuff like that.”
Stuff like mini-orcas to feed your enemies to. But she wouldn’t dwell on that now. Not when Justen had been so kind as to save her life. Not when she had so much shallow socialite to convince him of.
“Slipstream is an excellent guard beast,” she replied as the animal scurried to her side. “I’ve never had my yacht stolen even once.” A servant had set out a breakfast she wasn’t quite prepared to tackle until the tsunami in her gut died down. Instead, she poured herself a cup of jasmine tea and sank into the cushioned chair. “So, Citizen Helo, have you been enjoying my estate?”
“Justen is fine, Lady Blake.”
She smiled at him over the cup. “So is Persis. After all, we’re good friends now that you’ve spent the night at my place.”
His gaze flickered away from her then, and Persis’s smile grew wider. She’d have answers from him yet. He might be handsome and famous and smart, but she was Persis Blake.
“So, what brings you to Albion . . . Justen?”
“Just a vacation.” He shrugged, but he still wasn’t quite meeting her eyes. “You visited my country for fun.”
“I can’t imagine your wanting to leave Galatea when things are going so well for you back home.” Persis crossed her legs, allowing the silk of her robe to part to her knees as Justen did his best to ignore the sight and busy himself with the teapot. The Galatean was hiding something.
Justen poured himself his own cup of tea, then took a long draft. After a moment, he looked at Persis again. “No, not really. No true patriot of my homeland would relish the violence happening now. I am a regular, I am a Helo, but I do not condone what is being done to Galatean aristos.”
His words hit hard. Persis swallowed and fought the urge to pull her robe closed. Maybe he wasn’t hiding so much as seriously disturbed by the horrors in Galatea. “I’m happy to hear that,” she managed.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting the hospitality of any aristo without explaining my objections to my government’s tactics.”
Persis longed to ask him why, then, if he was a Helo, he didn’t use his influence to stop them? Why was he not fighting to help his countrymen, the way his grandmother had when she’d invented the cure? Persis was fighting. What was wrong with the rest of the world?
But that wasn’t the sort of thing Persis Blake asked anyone anymore. Not the Persis Blake who’d spent the better part of the year convincing everyone that she was empty-headed and ornamental and absolutely indispensable to the glittering court of Princess Isla. Those sorts of questions were reserved solely for the Wild Poppy these days, and the Wild Poppy was out of commission—at least until Persis recovered from Tero’s mistake.
“What is it you wish to do while you’re here?” she asked instead. “I must say, you’ve fallen into excellent hands—though you might not think so after yesterday. I’m rather popular at court. I’m sure I could get you an invite to a party there.” In truth, the entire court—aristo and reg—would salivate for a glimpse at a Helo. Bringing him would only cement her ranking at court.
But somehow, Persis had trouble imagining Justen would enjoy it.
“I’d like that, thank you,” he surprised her by saying. “Do you know the Princess Isla at all?”
What did he think “popular at court” meant? “I’m her chief lady-in-waiting.”
Justen looked nonplussed. “Like a maid?”
Persis smiled indulgently. “It’s how royals say ‘She’s one of my best friends.’”
Justen blinked. “Really? Oh . . . good. Because I’ve come to Albion to meet her.”
Was that disappointment he was not quite able to hide? Why would he be disappointed to have fallen in with such a well-connected aristo? And what did he want with Isla? Persis narrowed her eyes. This required further observation.
As did Justen Helo.
By the time the aristo had done her hair, her clothes, and her makeup, Justen had gone through the entire catalog of her gengineered rodent’s parlor tricks and wandered around the grounds of her sprawling estate twice. No one could deny the place was as beautiful as the girl who lived here. Perched on a high cliff at the southernmost edge of Albion’s western peninsula, the house seemed like a cliff flower itself, blossoming in shades of brown and black from the earth. Most of its rooms lay open to the sea air, covered only by vast, petal-shaped roofs that swept overhead, supported by thin, translucent columns of onyx or crystal. Justen could see slits in the external walls, hinting at screens that could be drawn to protect the interior during the rainy season.
The water surrounded them on three sides, vast and glittering beneath the sun-drenched sky. From up here, you could barely hear the surf, and the sharp, living smell of the water faded into a simple salty freshness. Justen paused at the western cliff edge and stared at the endless ocean. Once, long ago before the Reduction and the wars that had broken the very heart of the world, there’d been other lands, other people. People who lived and breathed democracies, people who’d accomplished their goals without spilling a single drop of blood. The Galateans had failed at this. Justen had failed.
All he’d ever wanted was to help people, like his grandmother had done. And now, when things had gone so wrong he had no choice but to escape, the only place left to go was Albion. The only mercy he could hope to get was from another monarch.
That was, if Persis Blake ever finished getting ready.
Everywhere he went, he felt the eyes of the estate servants on him. He grew tired of their obsequious attempts to bring him things—snacks, perfumes, changes of clothes in monstrously garish colors. Most of all, he hated the way every last one of them called him Citizen Helo. They probably meant it as a mark of respect, or even support of the Galatean revolution, but if anything, that made him feel worse.
“Citizen Helo, I just wanted to take a moment to thank you—to thank your family—for their gift to the world.”
“Citizen Helo, both my parents were born of the cure. Bless you and yours.”
“I hate to bother you, Citizen Helo, but I’ll never forgive myself if I don’t say it. It is such an honor to be in the presence of someone descended from Persistence Helo. Everyone here at Scintillans is overwhelmed. Is there anything I can get you?”
This last one planted a notion in his head, and he stopped the servant, a blue-haired butler. “Pardon me, but the lady of the house . . .”
“Lady Heloise Blake? She and Lord Blake are away at the moment.” The servant eyed him. “Oh, you mean Persis.”
But Justen already had the information he needed. He snapped his jaw shut. Heloise. Persis. He should have seen it before. Those names were no accident. And yet, why would aristos bear them?
“Citizen?” the servant prompted.
Justen shook his head. “I was just wondering how long she’d be.”
The older man laughed. “Yes, she does like her clothes, our girl. These days, it’s all she seems to care about.”
Our girl. Now, Justen examined the estate with new eyes. He’d been too concerned for his patient’s welfare when he’d arrived yesterday afternoon, and last night and this morning he’d been busy trying to make a plan for the future, but now he finally began to take in the details of this aristo estate. The little fishing village nestled at the base of the cliffs was filled with neat, tidy houses, not ramshackle cabins like one often saw on the plantations in Galatea. Happy, plump children ran about the lawns of the estate itself. The servants practically whistled while they worked. Were things so very different in Albion?
He knew that the Reduction’s end had been handled differently in the two nations of New Pacifica. In Albion, mandatory education for regs and fair wage laws had been passed. There’d been reg representatives on the Royal Council for more than a generation. But that couldn’t have made a true difference, could it? As Uncle Damos said, they still had a king calling the shots. One only had to look at the way they treated the women of Albion, the way aristos like Persis led such decadent, useless lives, to see how rotten the system must be.
But then again, those names . . . something was strange about Scintillans.
“Are you ready to go?” came a voice at his back. He turned to find Persis in a sari the color of sunset. Jewels sparkled along the hem and neckline. Her hair was piled on top of her head again, in a fashion he was sure was exceedingly intricate but looked to him like nothing more than an osprey nest. On top of it all perched a ridiculous fascinator shaped like a bird of paradise and made entirely from real feathers. Her skin was clear and golden, glowing with a vitality one would never have guessed possible for a girl so recently recovered from genetemps sickness. Her light-colored eyes were winged with kohl, and her wide cheekbones and full lips were the same sparkly rose color. Perhaps her complexion was being helped along by a good deal of Albian cosmetics, then.
The sea mink, its glossy red coat set off by a jeweled coral collar, frolicked at her feet.
The aristo frowned at him, as her gaze traveled down his body and over his simple black shirt and pants. “Oh, you didn’t change, I see.”
“Where did you get your name?” he blurted.
Her eyes snapped back to his face. “Where do you think?”
“From my grandmother.”
“Well,” she said, with a tilt of her head that sent the feathers shaking. “I see you have at least some of her smarts.”
“Is a reg, yes,” she said, her tone clipped. Was she . . . embarrassed by that fact? Justen couldn’t tell. He had never known a half aristo before. Not a legitimate one, anyway. Not one who was friends with royalty.
Persis tapped at her gloved left hand, then seemed to remember she was still recovering. “Well, let’s go. The royal court of Albion awaits.”
And now Justen realized he had no idea what to expect.
(I’ll be posting a chapter a day of Across A Star-Swept Sea leading up to its release on Tuesday. Read along and then enter the giveaway at the bottom of the post.)
As the sun peeked its head over the lip of the sea, lighting the shore with a rosy golden glow, the Ford children stopped writhing and fell into an odd, restless sleep. Sharie hoped this was normal. Her contact hadn’t told her exactly what to expect from the pinks—just that the children would be easier to transport to revolutionary officials if they were already Reduced.
She didn’t like the look of them, lying there on pallets with the remnants of pink foam drying around their mouths. She didn’t like the fact that her contact was supposed to have been here well before sunrise. If the Fords noticed the children were missing—if they found her with them like this . . .
Finally, she couldn’t stand the sight of their pathetic little figures anymore, and she escaped to the beach. Soon enough, the shadow of a skimmer loomed long across the sand in front of her. She hadn’t expected it from the direction of the beach but instead from the road. It didn’t matter. The pickup was here at last. The driver was . . . not exactly the police escort she’d expected. Then again, maybe the revolution preferred to do such dirty work through unofficial channels. The woman was a crone, hunched and craggy, with ropes of gray hair and deep-set eyes surrounded by masses of wrinkled, peeling skin. She was swathed in a heavy, hooded robe, and as she moved to lower the skimmer’s brakes to the sand, Sharie could see that her hands were encased in long linen gloves.
“You’re late,” said Sharie, wondering if the old woman would even be able to help her move the bodies.
The woman rolled her ancient shoulders. “Money doesn’t have an expiration date. But the revolutionary army’s offer does.”
Sharie quickly ushered the lady into the house before she could change her mind. There, on a pallet, lay three children, still unconscious but sleeping fitfully. Pink stains crackled along their cheeks and throats and lay in spongy mats in their hair.
“You gave them pinks,” the woman stated flatly.
“Yes,” said Sharie. “As instructed.”
But the woman made no response other than, “Where’s the fourth?”
“Couldn’t get to her. She’s the heir, so she gets her own wing.” Sharie rolled her eyes. “You know aristos. Even under siege, they have to keep up appearances.”
The old woman snorted, a phlegmy, disgusting sound, and reached for the leather purse hanging at her side. “So, the agreement was a hundred each, right?”
“Three hundred,” Sharie corrected. She hadn’t braved smuggling the children out of the Ford estate’s blockade for pocket change! “Three hundred each.”
The crone paused, thinking. “Well, without the heir, I won’t get full price for the lot. The plan’s to trade these children for Lady Ford and her husband. It’s them Citizen Aldred wants—they’re leading the royalist resistance. But without the heir, Lady Ford might just decide her other children are spares, necessary sacrifices, just like all those guards who’ve been dying to keep the blockade strong against the revolutionary forces.”
“They won’t,” Sharie insisted. She could see the deal crumbling before her eyes. “They might be aristos, but the Fords love all their children. Believe me, I was their nanny for five years.”
“Five years,” said the crone. “You took care of these brats, and now you’re Reducing them?” She whistled through her teeth. “What are you gonna do with the money? Buy a nice new life in Halahou where you never have to take care of some aristo’s spoiled spawn again?”
Of course. Sharie had no experience other than child care, and with the aristos dropping like flies, there was no one left to hire her anymore. Might as well get as much as she could while the getting was still good. The Ford children were doomed anyway. The blockade would fall, and when it did, the whole family would be Reduced—them and anyone caught helping them. Sharie could see the writing on the wall, and she had no intentions of being there when it crumbled.
The crone was making some mental calculations as she looked at the sleeping children. “A hundred and fifty each. That’s my final offer, and you’d better take it. Time’s running short.”
The woman handed over the money in the leather purse. The coins clinked against one another, surprisingly heavy. Sharie had never held so much money in all her life—or much metal money at all. The Fords had paid in royal credits, all nice and aboveboard. But with everything still in flux with the government, it was best to carry cash. Especially if you weren’t exactly working aboveboard.
She slung the purse around her shoulder then, one by one, helped the old woman carry the children into the back of the skimmer’s cab. As she settled the youngest, Mardette, the girl’s eyes fluttered open.
“Guuuuuh,” she mumbled.
Sharie swallowed. Mardette had a beautiful singing voice. She wondered if Reduced even knew how to carry a tune.
They’d be captured anyway. They’d be Reduced anyway. There was nothing Sharie could do to stop it. If she tried to help them, she’d wind up punished, just like all the other regs on the Ford estate. Sharie squeezed the purse hard, reassured by the weight of the money inside. And in addition to her wealth, she’d helped the revolution. They owed her now.
“By the way,” said the crone, as she climbed back behind the driver’s seat of the skimmer, “what’s your plan if Ford’s people come looking for you?”
Sharie shook her head. “If they could get past the revolutionaries, don’t you think they would?” She needn’t worry about the Fords, anyway. The revolution would protect her. Sharie had picked the winning side.
“Hmm,” said the crone, and took off.
As soon as she was gone, Sharie ran back into the house. The pallets on the floor still held the pink-stained imprints of the bodies of the Ford children, and Sharie averted her eyes. At least she had the money. She thrust her hand into the purse, reveling in the cool feel of the coins. This money would be more than enough to start her life in Halahou. She opened the purse, the better to see her reward. There they were, forty-five silver pieces. Money for nothing, except saving herself from the wrath of the revolutionaries. Light from the rising sun filtered in through the cottage windows and glittered on the surface of the coins.
Which began to change.
Before Sharie’s eyes, the engraving on each coin began to melt and swirl on the surface. Sharie blinked hard, but the optical illusion continued. She grabbed one of the coins and brought it close to her eyes. The face of old Queen Gala blurred, the lines becoming sharp and jagged, until they re-formed themselves into the shape of some sort of sharp-leaved flower.
She shook her head in shock and dismay. Nanotech wasn’t used on coins. Had she been tricked, given counterfeit money by that old crone? She flipped over the coin to see what it showed on the back.
My eternal thanks, the Wild Poppy
The coin thudded to the counter. Sharie staggered backward. No.
There was a pounding on the door outside. “Sharie Bane? We’ve come for the children.”
Sharie clutched her hands to her chest, feeling the trap close tight. How could she have been so foolish? With trembling fingers, she opened the door. On the threshold stood two revolutionary guards and a third figure—a young woman in a pair of smart black pants and a matching military jacket with an insignia that marked her as a captain. Sharie’s gaze dropped to the name embroidered on the woman’s coat.
Vania Aldred, the young captain in charge of the Ford siege. Citizen Aldred’s own daughter. Sharie’s throat went dry.
“You are Sharie Bane?” the captain asked, cocking her eyebrow until it disappeared under her dark bangs. Her black hair was unfashionably long, and straighter than water flowing from a tap.
Sharie considered feigning ignorance. “I—”
The woman brushed past her, scanned the room. “Where are the Ford children? Have you failed to deliver on your promise to the revolution?”
“No . . . I . . .” Sharie’s gaze shot to the coins on the counter. The young woman—hardly more than a child herself—looked that way, too. She picked up one the coins, then hissed and let it thud back to the counter.
“You idiot. What did he look like?”
“An—an old woman.” Sharie swallowed, stepping back. “Please, how could I have known? I didn’t . . .”
The captain gave a little jerk of her head. “No, you didn’t do anything you should have.” She turned and marched toward the guards at the door, whispering a few orders. The guards started forward.
“Please . . .” Sharie whispered.
“Useless idiots like you,” Captain Aldred said, “don’t deserve your brains.”
Justen Helo strolled down the dock, hands in his pockets as if to protect the oblets he’d hidden there. He doubted anyone could actually see the pebble-sized computers, but he still felt better with his fists around them. So far, his escape had been uneventful. The staff at the records hall had barely noted his visit, and guards near the palace gate had merely inclined their heads in his direction as he passed. Now he was one narrow strait from safety.
Was he really going through with this?
Did he have a choice? As soon as the officials at the Lacan estate began to notice what he’d done, arrest would be right around the corner. He’d no longer be able to put his uncle off, no longer be able to prevent his research from becoming a mockery of everything he’d spent his life working toward.
Up ahead, a beautiful yacht tugged impatiently at its mooring ropes. It was Albian by the look of the rigging. Better and better. Travel between the nations had slowed since the revolution, but Justen had hoped there’d be someone at the port of Halahou who might give him passage. He strolled by the ship twice, hoping to catch a glimpse of the skipper, but saw no one on deck. On his third pass up the quay, one of the guards looked at him for a little too long, his eyes lighting with what might be recognition.
This had been a mistake—the latest of many. He should have known his uncle would guess his plans. There was a reason Damos Aldred had been the first to challenge Galatea’s ruler in the centuries since the island had been created.
“You there,” said a guard, and Justen tensed. But the man, clad in his revolutionary uniform, was not pointing in his direction but rather at someone behind him. Justen turned to see a figure staggering down the dock. Tall and elderly, the woman was an aristo by the look of her outfit, a cascade of silken ruffles in rust and midnight blue from her collarbone to her ankles. Her hair was arrayed in an elaborate tangle of curls and braids the color of storm clouds. Justen was surprised. He’d doubted there was an aristo on all Albion with natural-colored hair. And this aristo was most certainly Albian. A Galatean noble who’d somehow avoided the revolution this long would not come out dressed in such finery. That was just asking for trouble.
“You there,” the guard repeated. “Identify yourself.”
The aristo, whoever she was, paid no heed. She was focused on the yacht, as if she could maneuver herself aboard by sheer force of will.
An intoxicated Albian aristo entertaining herself with cheap thrills in the slums of the dock district. Contempt flashed through Justen and with it, regret. For all its claims, the revolution hadn’t done much to help the poorest regs. What was the point of punishing aristos for their behavior if the victims weren’t protected?
“Stop at once,” the guard cried.
The woman did stop now, and Justen noticed for the first time how iridescent the ruffles of her gown were as they shimmied and shivered in the sunlight. A split second later, he realized why. The aristo was shaking—shuddering so hard it was a wonder her teeth didn’t shatter in her mouth.
Genetemps sickness. That’s what it looked like, at least, and the most likely culprit if she’d been partying in the slums. With the instinct born of years of medic training, Justen reached out to her, and she collapsed against him. He clutched her head as she twitched and trembled in his arms. Greasy gray paste smeared onto his fingers from her braids. She slumped in his arms as boots pounded the planks behind them.
There was about to be trouble here. Trouble and attention, neither of which he could afford.
As the first of the guards reached them, the woman was yanked out of his hands. “Who do you think you are?” the guard shouted as she dangled like a limp eel in his meaty grip. “Aristo scum, you answer to us.”
Justen began to back up. Thankfully, they didn’t seem half as interested in him. On the yacht, he saw a flash of turquoise as an occupant peered over the rails at the commotion. The woman in the guard’s grip looked up at the boat and shook her head once. But even that effort seemed to be too much for her, and her eyes rolled back in her head.
Another guard snorted. “This one looks like she just got her first pink. If we wait ’til it takes effect, we can have some real fun.”
At this, Justen stiffened, and a chill shuddered through his veins. Her first pink. So this was what it had come to on the streets of Galatea? Making jokes about the Reduction drug? He really had been sheltered. And if he didn’t get off this island, it would get much worse. For everyone.
Caution fled, and he opened his mouth, speaking in a voice more accustomed to addressing lab techs than dock security. “Gentlemen, can’t you see? This woman is an Albian, even if she’s an aristo, too.”
“And who do you think you are?” the first guard asked, looking down his nose at Justen.
Justen straightened, though it still didn’t make him as tall as the soldier. “An interested bystander, sir, and a friend of the revolution. You know Citizen Aldred has granted immunity to visiting Albians. We certainly wouldn’t want to anger their princess over this silly aristo, and neither would those in the palace. Am I right?”
“That’s your opinion, young man.”
“Correct, it is.” He was ready to unleash his secret weapon, when the aristo proceeded to vomit all over the pavement.
The guard grimaced. “Let Albion have her, then.” He let go and the woman collapsed on the dock, senseless. When the guard kicked her, she barely even grunted.
Justen’s mouth opened, but he said nothing. As long as they left, and left her alone, a kick would not hurt her worse than the genetemps sickness already had. He reached down and pulled her up again. The shaking had only worsened.
“My boat,” she croaked.
“Yes,” Justen replied curtly. Messing around with temporary genetics was foolish at best and deadly at worst. Since the revolution, the market for unlicensed genetemping had flourished in the Halahou’s sketchier neighborhoods, offering everything from glow-in-the-dark skin and feathers to snake eyes and sex changes. It was all the rage among the teen regs—even Remy had expressed interest in giving it a whirl, until Justen had explained exactly what could happen to her if things went wrong.
Genetemps were also wildly popular with bored Albian aristos looking for a little adventure on holidays down south. Justen didn’t bother to hate them. The hell that was genetemps sickness was punishment enough. This one, though, was old enough to know better. She looked like she was as old as the Helo Cure.
He dragged the old woman back to her ship, where the turquoise-haired Albian he’d spotted earlier met him at the ramp. She was a few years younger than Justen, with full, rosy cheeks and a keenly intelligent glint in her deep brown eyes. “Thank you, Citizen,” the girl said, grabbing the older woman out of his grasp. “I appreciate your assistance with my grandmother. She’s . . . quite frail . . .”
“She’s got genetemps sickness,” he snapped at the girl. “I’m not an idiot. The code’s breaking down badly and her cells are going into shock. Do you have a medical kit on board?”
Turquoise cast her grandmother a fretful look and said nothing.
“Listen,” Justen hissed. “She needs medical care or she’ll go coma. I’m a medic. I can treat her here, or we can take her to the hospital in Halahou. Your choice.”
Turquoise went for the kit. Justen arranged the old woman’s body on a cushioned bench. He brushed her hair out of her face, and gray grease smeared off on his skin. The color was fake, he realized, noting how the gray crackled on her braids.
The woman’s eyes fluttered open. He’d expected the watery, sunken look of age, but they were a clear, golden brown. And her wrinkles appeared fewer and far shallower than they had on the docks.
“An aging genetemps?” he asked, as if he were back in the clinic surrounded by other medics. “There’s a new one.”
“It didn’t work right,” the woman said, the croak subsiding to leave the voice of a girl. “It was supposed to make me look thirty, not ninety.”
“Ah.” Justen nodded. This aristo was no one’s grandmother. She must have been trying to get into an establishment with age restrictions. Though it didn’t explain the gray hair. He’d never understand the motives behind what passed for Albian fashion. The crazy hair colors, the ridiculous ruffles . . .
The turquoise-haired girl reappeared with a medical kit. “You’re awake,” she said with a sigh of relief.
The aristo held out her hand to her companion. “Andrine, is everything ready?”
“Good,” croaked the other one. “Ready the Daydream for departure as soon as my Galatean savior is done here.”
Justen saw his opening. “Actually, as I was telling your friend, you’re in dire need of medical attention. I’d like to offer my services to you during the crossing. I’m trained as a medic.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“I disagree.” He hesitated. “I am in search of passage to Albion anyway. If you won’t accept my care, I would be happy to pay you for the trip. But either way, as a medic I’m ethically required to offer my assistance.”
The woman regarded him for a long moment. He wondered how old she was really. If she’d taken aging genetemps, she might be even younger than he was. “How nice it is to see that all Galateans have not abandoned their morals. Fine, you can come with us. You must tell us, though, to whom I am in debt.”
He glanced behind him, to the docks. None of the guards lingered. Besides, as long as he was leaving, it didn’t matter. “My name is Justen Helo.”
Andrine stepped back. The aristo’s eyes widened. It figured. Even Albian party girls knew what that name meant.
“Citizen Helo,” she said softly, “it is an honor.”
“Justen,” he ground out. If he never heard the title “Citizen” again, it would be too soon. And who was this aristo kidding? An honor? There was vomit drying on her collar.
She inclined her head. “Lady Persis Blake, at your service.”
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The royal court of Albion was often likened to a riotous garden, but it buzzed with more than bees and was filled with colors never found in nature. Bougainvillea hedges encircled the public court and hibiscus topiaries lined the aisles, but no flowers could compete with the whirlwind of gowns; cloaks; leis; and most of all, the towering hairstyles of the island’s most fashionable aristocrats. Their chatter drowned out the sounds of the sea beyond, the constant hum of flutternotes zipping to and fro among the courtiers, and even the delicate tinkle of the famous Albian water organ.
One particularly crowded corner was currently occupied by Lady Persis Blake and her retinue of admirers. This evening she wore a simple, bright yellow sarong fastened about her neck with a length of crocheted gold links, and a matching gold wristlock—the leather fingerless glove that covered the palmport on her left hand. The elegant fall of her gown could only be achieved using the finest of Galatean silk, a difficult product to come by since the revolution began, but you could count on Persis Blake to have the inside scoop on where to get the best fabrics. Its hue matched exactly the yellow tones in her hair, which had been twisted, braided, and otherwise arranged so that its upswept yellow-and-white strands resembled the frangipani flower on the Blake family crest. Her beauty stood out, even among the kaleidoscope throng of the court.
In the six months since Princess Isla had ascended the throne as regent and brought along her old school chum as her chief lady-in-waiting, Persis had become one of the court’s most glittering and popular members. Hardly anyone remembered a time when a party or a boating trip or luau was complete without the addition of Albion’s loveliest, silliest socialite.
Even better, almost no one at court had been at school with Persis before she’d dropped out—no one who could paint a very different picture of the girl who was gaining quite the reputation for being nothing more than stylish, sweet, and above all stupid.
Along with her gown and her jewelry, today Persis wore a look of sheer boredom as the conversation took a turn in the direction of the revolution. The casual observer would guess it was because such an ornamental creature would find politics a tedious topic.
The truth was, no one here had a clue what Galatea was really like these days.
“The southerners’ civil war will spread to our shores,” said one young courtier with obvious aspirations to the Royal Council. “And when it does, we must quell any reg uprising before we find ourselves in the same predicament as the Galateans.”
“Surely not,” Persis said. “It’s hard enough finding silk merchants in Galatea who remain open these days. I’ll simply die if the Albian shops close down, too.”
“How like a woman.” The courtier chuckled indulgently. “Lady Blake, if there’s a revolution against the aristos in Albion, what you wear is going to be the last of your concerns.”
“Never!” Persis replied. “I have a reputation to uphold. We mustn’t let a silly thing like war make us forget our duties.”
There was another ripple of laughter among the young men sitting near her.
“I’m serious!” she added, forming her mouth into a pink pout. “Even with my responsibility to Princess Isla and her royal wardrobe, my dear papa hardly ever lets me sail down to visit the shops in Halahou anymore. He says he fears for my safety, but you’d think he’d spare just a smidge of concern for my clothes as well. If any of you fine gentlemen know the identity of the Wild Poppy, won’t you please ask him to rescue us some dressmakers on his next trip to Galatea? It’s getting old that all he’s been rescuing lately are other aristos. Honestly, they aren’t useful for anything but competition.”
“If I knew the identity of the Poppy,” said one of the courtiers, “I’d be the most popular man on both islands. In Albion all the ladies would adore me”—several ladies tittered for proof—“and in Galatea, I’d be Citizen Aldred’s very best friend. The Poppy is Galatea’s most wanted.”
“Then my proposal would solve everyone’s problems,” Persis argued. “Citizen Aldred probably wouldn’t mind so much the loss of a tailor or two, and I would get that meticulous Galatean attention to sartorial detail that I’ve been missing. Everyone wins!”
“Except the aristos,” mumbled another of the courtiers, but no one listened to him. After all, talk of prisoners was deemed ever so dull by the Albian courtiers, and thinking about Galatean aristos they all knew who might even now be imprisoned did terrible things to one’s mood.
Just once, Persis wished she could steer the conversation in this direction instead of away from it. Would things change if more aristos started questioning the Council’s hands-off position regarding the war? Would it be worth it to try, even if it endangered her carefully wrought disguise?
She looked up to see Tero Finch gesturing to her from the edge of the circle. As a freshly cooled member of the Royal College of Gengineers, Tero’s clothes weren’t quite as stylish as the aristos surrounding him, but his height, broad shoulders, and perfectly dyed metallic bronze hair still had several of the young ladies turning his way. “Persis,” he called, “the princess can see us now.”
With a trilling laugh that grated even on her own ears, Persis sprang to her feet. “I must leave you, lovelies. Please make sure to have some good gossip when I return.”
She met Tero, and together they ascended the wide marble steps to the terrace.
“Where’s my sister?” Tero asked under his breath. “You didn’t get Andrine arrested, did you?”
“Probably in Scintillans Village by now, safe and sound and doing her homework,” Persis reassured him as they entered the throne room of the princess regent of Albion. Tero was convinced Persis and Andrine were risking their lives with every trip to Galatea. That he was right hadn’t dissuaded them yet.
The sunset filtered through bamboo blinds drawn over the colonnade that formed the outer wall of the room. Vases three meters high were stuffed with drooping palm fronds strung with orchid leis, and the scent of the royal flower hung heavily in the room. Princess Isla sat in the middle of the floor, heedless of the giant white cushions strewn nearby. Her wide-legged white pants were gathered in bunches in her lap, and her white cape lay forgotten on one of the chaises behind her. For a moment, Persis could imagine they were children again, playing with puzzles or building pillow volcanoes on the floor.
Isla held her left hand out to the toddler who sat before her, a bright-eyed boy who squealed with delight at the tiny golden threads leaping around on Isla’s fingertips.
“It works!” Tero cried, dropping to his knees at the princess’s side.
“Another new app?” Persis asked as she gathered the trailing ends of her yellow sarong and sat down, too. Tero seemed to spend half his time at his new job in the Royal College of Gengineers, developing new palmport apps for Isla.
And the other half secretly working for the League of the Wild Poppy.
So now it was jumping threads. The week before it had been an app that would allow Isla to control the playlist on the water organ in the courtyard. And before that, Tero had cooked up some code that combined optic identification with a visual skin, which if you ran the app made Councilman Shift look like an armadingo. Anything to make Isla laugh, or even forget for a moment that she wasn’t just their schoolmate anymore. She wasn’t just Persis’s best friend. One little accident, and she’d found herself an orphan, a mother, and a ruler of a country on the brink of war.
“What kind of supplements does it take to run it?” Persis asked, as if none of that mattered, and they could talk as they used to.
“Intense ones,” Isla said with a sigh, “but it’s a real flare with the king.” She shrugged, and the figures crumbled into shimmering dust around the gold disk inset in the center of her palm. The baby squawked in protest, but Isla grabbed him and turned him upside down until he started laughing again.
“The King of Albion,” Tero added with mock haughtiness, “has exquisite taste for a child who only recently began walking.” He smiled at Isla and bowed his head. “I’m glad you liked it, your Highness.”
Your Highness. When had Tero gotten so formal? There’d been no bows ten years ago when he was crashing their slumber parties and chucking cuttle jellies at their heads.
But a lot had changed since then.
Isla watched Tero leave, then patted the king on his diapered bottom. “All right, Albie. Go play while your sister talks to Auntie Persis.”
The infant King of Albion obeyed, toddling into the waiting arms of his nurse.
“Princess,” said Persis gaily, keeping careful watch of the toddler and his keeper, “I’ve just come back from Galatea and I’ve brought you some . . . lovely silks.”
“More of the usual?” asked Isla, lying back against the cushions and flicking a few locks of her silver hair behind her shoulders. Unlike Persis’s hair, Isla’s color was natural. Everyone knew the hair of Albian royals went white in their teens—it was such a genetic signature of the dynasty that even if Isla still had the dark Polynesian hair of their youth, she would have had the color removed. It was hard enough gaining recognition as the island’s rightful ruler.
Persis giggled. Loudly. “Are you telling me you’re bored by my efforts to bring you the best Galatea has to offer?”
“Not at all,” Isla replied, darting another glance at the king’s nursemaid, “but I find myself more curious about another Albian smuggling Galatean goods to my shore. I’ve heard rumors the Wild Poppy has just concluded another raid today.”
“I’ve heard the gossip, too,” replied Persis, taking care that her tone was every bit as gossipy. “Apparently, he rescued Lord Lacan and all his family.”
“Even the children?”
Isla could not contain her smile. She immediately sobered, however. “But that’s only six. I heard the Poppy made off with ten refugees.”
“Goodness, Princess!” Persis exclaimed. “You can’t expect me to know anything about that!”
“Persis . . .” Isla could look very royal indeed, when she chose.
“A few regs who ran afoul of revolutionary principles . . .” Persis confessed, “most likely.”
“Most likely,” Isla repeated, pursing her lips, “knowing what a soft sell the Wild Poppy is. I wonder whatever he thinks I’ll do with all the reg refugees he crowds onto my shores.”
Persis gave her friend a hopeful smile. “He probably thinks you’ll do right by them, given what a benevolent despot you are.” She’d been teasing Isla with the title for years, ever since they’d learned it in ancient history classes. But school was out now, for both of them. Isla was the de facto ruler of the island, and Persis—well, Persis had other activities to keep her occupied.
“And give my Council members yet another reason to suspect I know his identity?” Isla asked. Albie’s nursemaids were maintaining a respectful distance, but you never could tell.
“Surely they don’t think that?” said Persis, looking skeptical. “I thought everyone in Albion knows you care for nothing but competing with me for being the prettiest dressed woman on the island. You’re regent in name only, and you intend to let the Council decide the direction of the country until the king comes of age.”
Isla stared at Persis, a warning blazing in her dark eyes. Persis stared at Isla, a twinkle in her amber ones.
“Fine,” said the princess at last, giving her friend an indulgent smile.
Inwardly, Persis breathed a sigh of relief. Isla might be the most regular-friendly ruler Albion had ever known, but she felt no particular obligation to the regs from Galatea, especially since it had been their revolution that had torn the country asunder.
Yet Persis couldn’t help but pity the poor regs she’d rescued while on the Lacan mission. They’d been trying to lead simple lives, untouched by the perverted aims of the revolution, and had been Reduced merely for standing in support of the innocent Lacans.
This war was a travesty. If only she could save them all.
If only Albion would. But Persis knew Isla’s hands were tied. And while her friend focused on the needs of her nation, Persis did what she could to provide the assistance both girls wished the country would.
“What do you think the Council would say to the Wild Poppy, if it had the chance?” she asked the princess.
“‘Stop bringing us poor people?’” Isla suggested.
Persis snorted with derision. “Even the Galatean aristos are poor when they get here. They’ve been stripped of their estates and all their worldly possessions.”
“If not their brains.”
Persis rolled her eyes. “Thankfully, that wears off.” Detoxing from the Reduction drug wasn’t a pleasant process, but it was better than the alternative.
And until the Galateans stopped punishing their regs along with their aristos, the Wild Poppy would be an equal-opportunity rescuer. Persis was a Blake, and an aristo, too, but her mother was a reg. And, more important, suffering was suffering. No one should have their mental capabilities stolen from them. Ever.
The nursemaids herded King Albie off for his nap. Isla watched them until they’d left the room. “With any luck, this revolution will wear off, too, and the Galateans flooding our shores will regain their fortunes and find a way to pay us back for our kindness.” Isla shook her head. “I was not supposed to rule, let alone do so in such interesting times.”
Persis placed her hand on her friend’s shoulder. There were whispers in court that Isla’s father might have prevented the revolution. He could have counseled Queen Gala at the start of the strife. There were still claims that the revolutionaries had played a part in the boating accident that had claimed the old King Albie, his wife, and his eldest son’s life a little more than six months ago.
Persis didn’t believe that, but she could put stock in the theories that Citizen Aldred and his army acted when they did six months back because they knew that Albion, still reeling from the loss of its king and grown heir, could hardly step in to help when the Galateans deposed, and then Reduced, their own queen.
Queen Gala had been the first victim of this monstrous new “Reduction drug” the revolutionaries were calling pinks. Two weeks into her sentence, she’d been found dead in her prison cell. Another accident, the revolutionaries had claimed.
Then they’d fed the queen’s corpse to her own guard beasts, the pod of mini-orcas she’d kept in her private cove near Halahou. After that night, Persis had been sure her own country would speak up against the revolution’s tactics, sure that Isla’s righteous fury over the death of her neighboring monarch would translate into action against her killers. But six months later, the Albian Royal Council was still dithering and, worse, preventing the princess regent from doing anything at all.
Some said they wished to avoid war at all costs. Others feared the revolution might spread to their shores. But the loudest voices of all were the ones that were using the strife as an opportunity to advance their own causes—especially the cause of making the princess look weak.
Now Isla stood and shook out her pants, which fell in creamy wrinkles to her feet. The white was strategic, too. Against the lush colors of the courtyard and the garish dress of the other courtiers, Isla stood out. Cool. Unapproachable. Unmistakable. Persis grabbed Isla’s cape off the floor, but her friend made a face as she took it. “I hate this thing.”
“Trappings of power.” Persis said, helping her friend with the clasp. And Isla could use all the trappings she could muster, too. The Albian laws against female inheritance not only kept Isla from becoming the true queen but also made even her temporary regency suspect in the eyes of most of her people.
When the king was still alive, the Albian Royal Council had been held up as a model government compared to the Galatean queen’s absolute power. In Albion, the monarch was subject to checks and balances by the Council. But now Persis and Isla saw the truth they hadn’t learned in school—the Council could also hamstring the ruler and blame lack of action on her.
Their only recourse was the Wild Poppy—and they could never let anyone know.
“Ah, well. Kings of old wore feathered cloaks and giant metal crowns every day. It’s a wonder they could walk.” Isla sighed. “Fifteen years before my brother can take over.”
“And how many before you do?” said Persis, then immediately regretted it. Isla got enough doubt from the Council and the populace. She didn’t need it from her best friend.
Isla’s face turned grim. “Galatea is Reducing its citizens at the rate of dozens per day. The country is being torn apart by a war. With that on the horizon, how do you think it would be viewed if I condemned the Council for their inaction?”
“I understand that, but—”
“But what, Persis?” Isla’s commanding voice was tinged with an edge of frustration. “I don’t want a war in Albion. If that means playing nice with the Council until the dust settles from my father’s death, so be it.”
The Council argued that intervening in Galatea might cause a commoner uprising on their shores. But Albian aristos were none too happy to see the court do nothing while Galatean aristos were tortured and Reduced. Isla knew it. The dangers of an aristocratic coup would hurt her, not Council members. And Persis was sure the Council leaders—mostly aristos—knew that.
“And if the Council leads us into civil war?”
“Then I’ll count on the Wild Poppy to save us.” And with that, Isla brushed aside the bamboo blinds and the two girls exited into the courtyard. Even the silly girl Persis pretended to be could read her friend’s intent. The conversation was over. And perhaps that was for the best. It wasn’t as if they could change anything. All Isla had was Persis, and all Persis had was the Poppy.
Outside in the courtyard, water trickled melodically through an artificial creek and down a series of musical locks. The water organ had been designed during the reign of Isla’s grandfather by a natural-born reg and was one of the prides of the Albian royal family. Their early support of natural-born regs as well as quick adoption of the Helo Cure were two facts the Council liked spread far and wide in order to keep the population in support of the monarchy. The state-run sanitarium for those with Dementia of Acquired Regularity—or Darkening, as most laymen called it—should have been a third, but no one liked being reminded of the shadow that lay over the cure.
Not even the Darkened.
All around the courtyard, hibiscus bloomed and palm fronds waved above the heads of the courtiers, who wandered in groups, gossiping about the Wild Poppy’s latest exploits or which aristo had been found with another’s wife. Here and there you heard the buzz of flutternotes winging from person to person, carrying messages or promises or even just sensations. It was a waste of energy, but all the rage nonetheless. Persis was partly responsible for that. She supposed it couldn’t be helped.
All anyone wanted to talk about was the Wild Poppy. Every aristo in Albion who wasn’t claiming to be his secret lover had broadcasted a desire to become so, should the Poppy be interested. Sometimes, Persis had the wicked temptation to play a trick or two. What would they do if they did get a wild poppy–shaped flutter, telling them to, say, meet him at dawn in the gazebo on the north promontory, wearing nothing but a lei of poppies and a smile? But she wouldn’t risk it. She had real work to do.
Which reminded her. The situation with the young soldier earlier today had been far too close for comfort. Her hand drifted up to touch the towering pile of yellow and white braids, curls, and twists that was the envy of every girl at court. Persis loved her hair. She loved the way it framed her face when she studied her reflection, the way it set off the deep golden tone of her skin. She loved how each twist and knot reminded her of the hours her mother had spent with her on the stone lanai of Scintillans, teaching her how to braid.
Her mother had once been the reigning beauty of Albion, and her thick, full hair was one genetic legacy in which Persis could take pride. But if she had to sacrifice it for the Wild Poppy, for the mission, she would. After all, the days of braiding her hair with her mother on the lanai were long gone.
A flutternote buzzed about her face, shaped like a flying fish. Andrine. Persis stripped off the wristlock protecting her palmport. The flower sank seamlessly into the disk in her hand, and the message whispered across her consciousness.
Cargo safely transported to clinic. All still unconscious.
She closed her eyes briefly, focusing to compose her reply. She coded its shape as a poppy, rather than her default, the Blake family’s frangipani.
Keep the soldier asleep until further notice.
“Persis?” Isla asked, eyeing the spun-sugar flutternote assembling itself on Persis’s palmport. “Is everything all right?”
And indeed, it was rare for Persis to conduct the Wild Poppy’s business in public.
As the flutternote was whisked away on a breeze from the sea, Persis forced a smile. “Nothing I can’t handle.”
The soldier Persis had captured during the Lacan raid had been an unexpected complication. Until now, Persis hadn’t taken anyone from Galatea except revolutionary prisoners, and she wasn’t quite prepared to deal with a prisoner of her own.
“I’ve been considering some improvements to my . . . workout clothing,” she said meaningfully. “Conventional methods aren’t quite sufficient for our needs lately. I’m thinking of trying something a bit more . . . radical for my mission tomorrow.”
Isla regarded her for a long moment. “Genetemps are dangerous.”
“So is getting caught by the Galateans.”
The princess shook her head. “I don’t like it, Persis.”
“You don’t have to. Genetemps can be found fairly easily on the street in Galatea these days.”
“As the horror stories that make their way across the strait prove daily,” Isla replied. “How many deaths has back-alley gengineering caused since the revolutionaries stopped policing it?”
“Not as many as the revolutionaries’ own drugs.” Persis refastened the wristlock over her palm. Besides, the risk posed by a genetemp was less dangerous than wrestling a gun off a Galatean soldier, as she’d had to do earlier today. And if Tero had enough free time to be making palmport apps for the amusement of Isla and Albie, he could whip up a few genetemps for her.
“What if you get sick?” Isla asked. “How ever will I explain it to your parents?”
Persis bit her lip. How would Isla react if Persis revealed that a genetemps accident might be the least of the Blake family health concerns? “You’ll tell them it was in the line of duty. That should be sufficient for Torin Blake.” And her mother, if it happened to be a day she remembered she had a daughter.
“And to the court? To the Council?”
“Easy.” She shrugged, pushing thoughts of her mother from her mind. “Everyone knows Persis Blake is foolish enough to try anything.”