Hidden Fires

Two misplaced quests explode into a conspiracy of death, treason, and abduction.

Hidden Fires

Release Date : January 10, 2012

ISBN Number : 978-1-61138-031-6

$4.99

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Description

The Chronicles of Nuala#2

He had spent a hundred years seeking the woman called Silver; he still didn’t know if he was going to kill her.

On Nuala — planet of deadly radiation levels, humans who heal by touch, and the rarest metal in the known galaxy — is a meeting of two con artists ripe for mischief…and maybe murder.

Two misplaced quests explode into a conspiracy of death, treason, and abduction.

REVIEWS

“There are books you read at one fast gulp, books you savor at a slower pace. For me, Kimbriel’s third action-packed science fiction novel is both: It isn’t necessary to read either of the other books to understand and enjoy Hidden Fires…but I’d highly recommend you do.”
-Science Fiction Review

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In the beginning Katharine Eliska Kimbriel was nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New SF/Fantasy Writer. Kimbriel is known for her literate, character-driven SF and Fantasy. Her novels include the fantasies NIGHT CALLS and KINDRED RITES From HarperPrism, and SF novels FIRES OF NUALA, FIRE SANCTUARY, and HIDDEN FIRES.

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Enemy:

One who desires to harm or destroy a person or thing to which he is opposed. SYN Enemy and Foe both indicate a person, group, thing, etc. that is hostile to one.

Chapter One

CAESAREA STATION 2389 A.R.

He had spent a hundred years seeking the woman called Silver; he still didn’t know if he was going to kill her.

It was an idle thought, floating through a haze of weariness to the front of his mind. Garth slowed, his eyes focusing on the gaudy calendar filling the display window to his left. Tiny white lights framed the safety glass, clustered like wild grapes at the tops and sides where the curve was pronounced, trickling off like fireflies through the blazing dates. Had he lost track?… No — there was the Axis year, in the corner. It was the last month of 2389, and his parents had died in 2288. A hundred years of searching, and the prize was as elusive as ever.

Damn Hobbs and his penchant for gambling! Damn the Caesarean port authorities for discovering his smuggling operation and demanding reciprocity when they did. A few hours, I only needed a few hours…. But the port authorities at Norwood had sealed off the ship, seizing the cargo. No money for the crew, no money for fuel — no way off Norwood Station, or even onto Norwood, as in Garth’s case. Bundled back into Sleep and returned to Caesarea Station for questioning. Damn, damn, damn! How many years lost?

No one had seen any of Silver’s recent partners since a trip made to Norwood, so the people to question would be on Norwood. No sense in asking other free-traders. No one in “the business” talked about anyone else… it was a marvel they got any work done at all.

Without really noticing Garth had started moving again. If he had thought about it, he would have simply said the area in front of that display window was stuffy. In truth the vacuum beneath the alloy grills below his feet had been defective; the lack of air movement around his legs had made him nervous. It was only a sectional breakdown — the familiar sucking motion now pulling at his soles soothed the uneasiness within. A spacer reaction, an instinctive reaction… the type of knowledge that could save a life. Only those who learned it in their bones lasted more than a few years at this trade.

“Garth! Garth Kristinsson!” The voice was low and almost furry; Garth turned his head in response. A dark, slender man appeared to his right, his personal gear still stored in his bakit. “They sprung you?”

“No reason not to,” Garth replied, fixing the speaker with a steely eye. Jamar could be very good company, but his tongue tended to wander too freely when he was among friends. A dangerous habit on a wheel….

“Of course.” Jamar flinched back into his shoulder pack as he took the hint. “Now what?”

Garth knew that he meant work. Idiot. “I’m hungry,” he answered. “What’s good right now?”

Since Jamar had been on Caesarea Station before transferring to Hobb’s ship at Norwood, the deportation had given him a quick round trip. “Blue Diamond and Lowe’s are still good, and Rest has been good lately, I heard.”

Studying reflections in the polished aluminum walls, Garth said: “Let’s try Lowe’s.” Was that the same man he had seen outside the Protectorate offices? Undistinguished, the type Caesarea preferred as police….

“Turn here,” Jamar prompted, nudging Garth slightly to the left. Using his long years of experience, the wiry little man led the way into the maze of the wheel.

How did they keep it so clean? Most geosynchronous wheels quickly acquired the grimy, beaten look of the stations circling Gavriel and Emerson, but Caesarea was different. It must have something to do with their image, Garth decided, keeping one eye focused on the deep green pack strapped to Jamar’s back and the other on the man following them. “Commerce” was every Caesarean’s middle name, and “gold” was their lifeblood. The face presented to potential clients and customers must be immaculate.

A sharp left turn took them off the rim and onto a spoke of the wheel. Sweet Jesu, he hated spokes — the soundproofing wasn’t as good as the rim, and the echoes of voices made his head ache. Why a wheel entirely of steel, aluminum, and chrome? Norwood System’s discovery of petroleum meant plastic was cheap again. They could replace a few interior panels for variety…. Although what glass there was faced away from the star, it was still darkened, and lent little relief to the scenery. In this row glass was almost non-existent. Most of the free-trader bars were along this strip, as well as a few eating places popular with Axis Forces. Free-traders were much pickier than military or pirates; food and liquor had to be good, and the establishment had to have a few quiet, private areas. Entertainment, be it hologram, interaction, or even live, was of no account with free-traders. Word of mouth kept these places going, much to Caesarea’s chagrin. Military served a purpose, and pirates could be boarded, their cargo confiscated — but free-traders usually managed to slip through cracks in the floor. Their favorite haunts were much as they were — destructive in their own way, like rats, for instance, but not dangerous unless approached.

Lowe’s was a perfect example of why authorities disliked free-trader hangouts. It looked like a dive from the outside; walls and dark glass smudged and dirty, the metallic paint over the door flaking, making the place “I owe” to the uninitiated. If Lowe still owned it, Garth imagined it was purposely left in poor condition; it would be Lowe’s idea of a joke. To Caesareans either outbound or meeting for business on the wheel, the facade was a clear warning: This place is not for you. Stay out.

Inside was another story. Lowe’s was licensed for food, liquor, and gambling — the sex outlet was upstairs, and regulars considered it to be separate from the main operation. A cousin of Lowe’s handled that end… Garth suspected Lowe didn’t like the cousin. Lowe himself was in the “passive entertainment business,” as he called it. Good food, strong drinks, and a pleasant place to hide out; it was clean, but not fancy. If you wanted music, or something else, you went elsewhere. At Lowe’s, you were getting the extended family treatment. It was a good enough combination that he actually made profits Caesarea knew about. If the police knew Lowe also sold information, they couldn’t do anything about it.

Slipping in the front door, Garth followed Jamar’s lead, hoping Lowe was out on business. Lowe was one of the few who remembered his father, Kristin Arnason, and therefore was certain to remember Garth. After six hours of questioning, Garth was in no mood for the old man’s subtle prying.

Someone was cooking fresh pea pods and tofu, and the smell was heavenly. Jamar found a small table to his liking and placed his bakit on a chair. While he went to the bar — liquor service was from the bar only, or had been the last time Garth was on wheel — Garth settled in the chair facing the door. As he had hoped, the undistinguished man had disappeared. Or had he?

Garth glanced up at the screens lining the top of the aisle wall. Only one was an omni, broadcasting news; a few showed the gambling activities in back, or the formal dining room behind the bar, but most showed current scenes from the wheel. The central arboretum, the landing bays, the administrative sector… the spoke outside the door. Framing screens on opposite sides of the wall showed both sides of the aisle. And there was his pursuer, loitering at a push vendor hooked a meter or so down the way. Dumb. All push vendors were assumed to be administrative spies. Definitely not a free-trader, then. Probably police.

“Wheel activity fascinating tonight?” came a soft voice. Growing still, Garth mentally cursed Jamar. True, the authorities would not dare follow him in here — legally they might enter, but whether someone followed them back out and cut their throat was anyone’s guess — but Garth really did not want to talk to Lowe. He had the lecture memorized. Besides, he was angry with the old man. One of Kristin Arnason’s best friends, and he kept saying he knew nothing about a woman called Silver. Horseshit on that — there was nothing worth knowing about free-trading that Lowe didn’t know. If it was nothing else, Silver’s elusive career was the stuff of which legends were made.

“Just one spoke,” he decided to answer, keeping his voice casual. A drink appeared in front of him. Lowe must have brought it himself; the waits did not truck liquor around. Knowing it was safe, Garth nodded his thanks and sipped the sweet drink. It would have been rude to refuse, even though it implied a slight debt to accept it. If Jamar would just —

Damn. He’d spotted a woman he’d obviously known his previous jump here, and was trying to turn their recent problems into a humorous story. Not funny to the police, who had received an entire shipload of workers ignorant of the smuggling… and obviously didn’t believe in their innocence.

“Will you dine with me in back?”

This required facing the old man. Lord, what had he done to deserve this? All he wanted to do was relax, fill his stomach, and get a line on cargo ships going to Norwood. Now he’d be tied up an entire evening. Slowly Garth angled his body toward Lowe.

This time Lowe actually looked older; the FOY treatments must have reached their limit. That bothered Garth. Lowe might have been a pain the last few times they’d spoken, but the man was one of the pillars of the station. Too bad there wasn’t really a Fountain Of Youth, despite the company’s claims. Only Sleep gave extended life, and even it had its price. Lowe’s hair was still dark, but lines were beginning to show in his face. He’s lost weight, Garth thought. He looks tired, not like Lowe. Thoughts of using Jamar as an excuse withered. This might be the last time; Garth could stand the lecture if only Lowe would spare him any questions.

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