In the Hall of the Martian King
By John Barnes
Published by Aspect
June 2003 (paperback); 0446610836; 304 pages

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In the Hall of the Martian King by John BarnesCHAPTER 1

Everyone Knows Your Uncle

Jak Jinnaka swam through the air carefully, watching where he was going, because even the widest tunnels swarmed with Deimons. His face was less than half a meter from the feet of the girl in front of him, and the small child behind him occasionally tugged Jak's ankle. The tunnel seemed dim even with the bright central light, for almost nothing reflected from the glass-coated gray-brown natural rock of Deimos.

Tunnels on Deimos were crowded even at midshift, because there were as few tunnels as possible. According to a report Jak was supposed to annotate, drilling new tunnels on Deimos cost more than on any other airless, low-gravity world in the solar system, because the waste you bored out was mostly chon. Deimos circled Mars, which was literally covered with chon, so it was like having a sand quarry near the Sahara.

Jak was glad he could link Hive Army Report 737FEB08F26: Current economics of construction at Hive Possession Deimos, with the fact that he was perpetually about to bounce his face off the girl's sneakers.

Most of the airswimmers were in uniform-bureaucrats, maintenance workers, Army, and crewies (many in the black-with-red uniform of the Spatial; most of the young women were depilated, another depressing feature of Greasy Rock, as every non-Deimon called the place whenever there were no Deimons apt to hear (or whenever they wanted to fight a Deimon).

As it was for billions of workers around the solar system, midshift break was, too often, the highlight of Jak's day. And it always began with a very stale joke.

Jinnaka could not help that he spoke Standard with the fast, flat, nasal accent of the Hive, stubbing his consonants and barely opening his jaw; he had grown up on the Hive, he had only been away from it for brief periods, and it was the way everyone else he'd grown up with talked. Thus when Jak airswam into the Sweet and Flaky, every day at fifteen-thirty, Avor Brindoneshta, the owner, would say, "Udlakka lardubba cuffy untuh binyezzplizz."

 

"Ahem," Jak said, trying to sound like an unusually stuffy actor showing off his diction, "I would very much like to purchase a large, double-strength coffee, and two beignets, if you please, and I would like that with some new humor, now that we have established that I talk funny."

Avor smiled and shook his head. "Old pizo, I don't think you're ever going to pull off an air of wounded dignity. Are you going to sit in the centrifuge, or hang out here at the counter so I can make fun of you?"

"Serve it for micrograv," Jak said, hooking his feet into the stirrups of the stool. "If your life isn't too busy."

"Only if I get a rush, and who can predict that? Eros's Torch is due but the quarkjet liner crowd goes to lighter places than mine. You didn't bring work with you today? Shouldn't you be working out complicated rules to mess up citizens' lives?"

"Probably I should, but my brain aches and I'm falling asleep at my desk." Jak sighed. Besides the food, the Sweet and Flaky's other attraction was that Avor was always willing to listen to him complain.

The year before, to the surprise of everyone who had known him when he was younger, Jak had graduated with honors from the Hive's Public Service Academy, and been chosen late in the first round of the Agency Draft. It was good to be in the first round, but better to be early in it; Hive Intel, the Spatial, the Army, and the other glamorous fast-track agencies picked first. Jak had been drafted by the Protectorates Administrative Services Corps.

PASC administered the strategic real estate that the Hive had acquired via the not-unrelated factors of being the largest single nation in the solar system, unbeaten in war for more than four hundred years, and the possessor of the largest Spatial in history.

Deimos, Mars's outer moon, was vital to the Hive as a military and intelligence base against the Martian nations, a trading post, and a political base of operations for preventing Martian reunification. It was invaluable as a counterbalance to the Jovian League base on Phobos. For a flying mountain of tar with less volume than any of the major volcanoes on Mars below it, Deimos was an important place.

"Tell you what your problem is, pizo," Avor said. "You're spoiled three different ways, and it's hard to get over all three of them at once."

Jak took a sugary bite of fresh, hot beignet. "So, nothing short of the sun blowing up would stop you from telling me, masen?"

Avor grinned at him. "Toktru, pizo. One, you're spoiled because you grew up on the Hive, and you're not used to living on a big military base. Two, you're spoiled because you grew up rich, and you could always buy more amusements, and we don't have nearly as many for sale here. And three, you're really spoiled because you've had two big adventures in your life, running and scrambling and getting shot at and barely getting away. Compared to that, sitting at a desk and deciding whether or not to permit a mercantile company to open a department store in Malecandra Pleasure City is pretty dull. Oh, and four: you also got to stick it in a princess."

Only his Uncle Sib, or perhaps Dujuv or Myxenna (his oldest toves), would have been able to tell that Avor's casual teasing had wracked Jak like a backhand to the balls. Jak's eyelids tensed slightly, his breathing hitched, and for a fraction of a second, his jaw muscles pulsed. Jak's two great adventures had both been directly caused by his having had, as his high school demmy, the sweet but vague Sesh Kiroping- later revealed as secretly Shyf Karrinynya, Crown Princess of Greenworld and utter bitch on wheels. In his first great adventure, Jak had rescued Sesh/Shyf, and made many friends; in his second, she had nearly enslaved him with the psychological conditioning techniques that the aristos used to create perfectly loyal servants and to destroy captive enemies. She had then set him to tasks that had cost him most of those friends.

Even now, Shyf's name, spoken aloud, sent a tremor through Jak's guts and made him feel heart-ripping insanely sixteen-years-old-and-fresh-in-love again. A casual reference to sex with her could send Jak to the brink of a killing rage; unfavorable stories about her on news accesscasts sent him into depression; and each message from her made his heart scream upward in pure joy.

"On the other hand," Jak said, marveling that Avor had no awareness of how close he had come to a broken neck, "objectively, my life is very dull, which is scientifically proven to cause boredom. And it's about to be duller, because Waxajovna removed anything that requires judgment or initiative from the in-box."

Avor shook his head, smiling sympathetically. "You aren't going to be here for long," he said. "Whether you realize it or not, you aren't. Reeb Waxajovna is." Waxajovna, Jak's boss, had been Procurator of Deimos for ninety-five years. "He's been here forever and he'll stay here till they fire him out the casket launcher. But all vice-ps leave within a couple of years. Either they aren't good at things, and Reeb gets rid of them for the good of Deimos, or they are good at things, and Reeb gets rid of them for the good of Reeb. He'll find some perfect position for you somewhere else, as soon as he can."

Till Jak unbelted from his seat to leave, the rest of the conversation was about the chances of Deimos's minor-league slamball team. Then, as Jak gripped his stool to push off, Avor added, "Don't worry about getting stuck here. That's not going to happen. You'll get out of here like everyone else. Nakasen's pink hairy bottom, old pizo, that's what I envy you most. Every few days I think about selling the Sweet and Flaky and moving back to the Hive. I'm past two hundred years old now and I still like to talk to people, but it would be nice to talk about something new."

"What are you tired of talking about?"

"You know, sex, war, sports, taxes-"

"In the Hive, nobody talks about taxes. Otherwise it's the same."

"You have a gift for keeping Deimons on Deimos," Avor observed. "Of course, you are a Hive bureaucrat and that is Hive policy."

"That also means I've accomplished one thing that I was supposed to, today, so I guess I should go back and write a bunch of memos claiming the credit. I'll see you."

Jak airswam into the tunnel, merging between an older kobold (diligently paddling along with an expression of utter boredom) and a group of teenaged boys (airswimming in cylinder formation, discussing how dull life was).

The visit with Avor had been nice, but Jak was still discouraged. His first independent command, beginning in less than two hours, ought to feel more significant, more like a moment when all of history changed, or more like the heavy hand of doom, or just more something.

Reeb Waxajovna was going on vacation. Like any PASC administrator, he had little choice: he went on vacation whenever his accumulated leave time, desired days at destination, and possible shipping schedules specified a solution to a scheduling equation at PASC headquarters. He wanted to go back to the Hive, which sat at the Earth-Sun L5 Lagrange libration point, sixty degrees behind Earth in orbit. A scheduling algorithm somewhere back in the main office had spotted a chance: Eros's Torch, a downbound quarkjet liner (twenty-two days from Mars to the Hive), and The Song of Copernicus, an upbound sunclipper (two and a half months from the Hive to Mars via a Venus assist), would provide Waxajovna with three more days at the Hive than the sixty minimum he had requested. While he did that, Jak Jinnaka would be administering Deimos, for a total of five months.

Waxajovna was waiting for him. "Mister Jinnaka. Let's go over everything one more time, so that your obsessive, neurotic supervisor will not worry himself ill while on vacation."

"I never said anything like that about you, sir."

"Of course not, you're not crazy, Jinnaka, but you are not stupid either, and considering what I've been putting you through for the last few weeks, you have to have been thinking it, now and then. Now, humor me on this. Then I have a few last notes."

The Procurator for Deimos was an unmodified human, a medium-brown-skinned endomorph with slight epicanthic folds, flat cheekbones, and a snub nose. In messages to his more closely trusted toves, Jak sometimes called Reeb Waxajovna "The Modal Man" because he seemed to have the most common type of everything. He even looked the average age; only the tired crackle in his voice revealed that he was older. "Now, then, let's run over each area budget first."

After area budgets, there were culture grants, infrastructure financing, projects advice to the local government, revenue enhancement relations with Deimos's tax bureau, and some issues about Wager orthodoxy. Only the last of these really mattered; though individual nations were continually at war, the essential unity of humanity (against the Rubahy if another war were to break out and against the Galactic State if it ever issued its long-expected Extermination Order,) was absolutely a matter of survival. The Wager, the religious-philosophic system followed by nineteen out of twenty humans, was the basis of human unity, and though there were local variations and minor differences in its practice, so far, in seven hundred years, there had been no major schism. The Hive itself had been founded, in part, to be the center and sustainer of the Wager.

But even on the Wager-related matters, the real creative thinking was done; Jak would merely follow orders and fill out paperwork.

Almost all arriving and departing ships would be Deimos-based Hive Spatial patrols by orbicruisers and armed sunclippers. Patrol in-and-outs required no real effort; their crews already had quarters, and for every ship that left its berth to go out on patrol, another came in.

All the real headaches during Jak's five-month watch would derive from the eleven ships from extramartian space: two downbound quarkjet liners, four upbound sun clippers, a down-bound sunclipper, and four warships-a downbound armed sunclipper from New Hamburg making an allied-port call, and a task force of three Spatial ships, the battlesphere Like So Not, warshuttle carrier Actium, and orbicruiser Tree Bowing to the Storm, upbound to the Neptune system to relieve the Hive's task force guarding Triton (whether the Spatial guarded Triton from the Jovians, the Rubahy, or the Tritonians themselves was always an interesting question).

"That armed sunclipper will be no problem at all," Waxajovna observed, "because nobody's going to be allowed off it. New Hamburg has a major defection problem, so Bunne will co-orbit rather than dock, and send over officer parties by longshore capsule.

"But any trouble that the Hamburgers save you, our own task force will make up for. Battlesphere crewies always drink and fuck themselves silly, and Actium will be worse- two hundred fifty warshuttle crews. And then add in that they're all going up to Triton on a direct ride from here-so after this one port call they're in for thirty-seven more weeks of training on simulators, then two years at Triton, where Forces personnel are confined to base due to terrorist threats. And then at least forty weeks in all getting back down to the Hive.

"Which means their lives are looking to absolutely stink for the next three and a half years, and their last ten days to blow off steam will happen here.

"So the pilots, navigators, weaponeers, and beanies will all be roaming bar to bar and whorehouse to whorehouse, looking for chances to beat each other up, and the officers will all be publicly telling them to cut it out and privately betting on whose crewies can stomp whose, and the warshuttle crewies will clash with the battlesphere crewies..."

"And you haven't even factored in the orbicruiser," Jak pointed out.

"They won't be the problem," Waxajovna explained. "Orbicruiser captains and crews are usually tight little families that don't like anyone else. They'll come onto Deimos for about ten minutes, spend all of it buying liquor and hiring prostitutes to go back on board with them-"

"Isn't that contrary-"

"If you even think of enforcing those regulations, I'll see that your next post is administering sanitation at a methane mine in the Kuiper Belt. Half the art of administering, Jinnaka, is leaving well enough alone. Now, everything is in good shape and you have worked hard to make sure that it is. I would imagine that you are specking that, headaches of the port call excepted, the next five months will be spectacularly boring."

"As a matter of fact, sir, yes."

"Well, don't bet on it. Let me emphasize that, again. Don't bet on it. The world can always become lively. The kind of surprises that can happen is a surprise all by itself." Reeb Waxajovna stretched and yawned. "I always hated old farts who told war stories, but there is some purpose in it at the moment, so let me just tell you about a few things that can break up the routine, in a 'routine' temporary command. I promise I won't go into detail, slap me if I do, all right?"

"Looking forward to it, sir."

Waxajovna grinned. "I would, too. Anyway, in my first ten years of occasional commands, I had to deal with a sudden outbreak of mutated chicken pox. And I was temp acting station chief at Tycho during the week the police stumbled across a serial killer with thirty bodies in a rented cold locker.

"Then there was arriving at a miserable little asteroid out at Saturn L5, as the vice procurator-same job you have now. My ferry docked six hours after the procurator had been shot dead by a jealous husband. The previous vice-p was already on the ferry out to the sunclipper, past the point of no return. And the Hive was in inferior conjunction with the sun, so I had to send the message around relays.

"Five hours later PASC's reply arrived. Four instructions. One, bury him. Two, assume command as acting chief for at least the next three years. Three, in eighty-four hours the battlesphere Up Yours-never a better named ship in history as far as I was concerned!-would be bringing me a secret weapons project with a staff of twelve hundred people, all of whom would have to be housed, fed, and cared for, and which would also require a couple of cubic kilometers of new space to be constructed for the project. That was more people and more space than the colony had at the time."

"What was four?"

Waxajovna winced. "They told me to buck up and quit whining. Now, as I said there would be, there's a point to my old war stories. And the point is: my experiences are why I insisted on making sure you were so overprepared before I left. I've been preparing you to be a juggler with a baby in the air."

"Um?"

"It's a metaphor I learned from a mentor a long time ago. A juggler is supposed to keep lots of balls in the air, that's what makes him a juggler. Nobody's very interested unless he juggles something very dangerous or very precious-a rare glass goblet, or a jar of nitroglycerin, or a baby. And if you're juggling a baby, no one cares about any tennis balls or oranges you've also got in the air-just get that baby down unhurt, and the audience thinks you're the greatest juggler they've ever seen. Have I stretched this metaphor far enough to tear it yet?"

"We're getting there. So the point is that if some emergency does come up-"

"Solve one big problem, brilliantly, once, and you will look brilliant. And if it's easier because everything else is all wrapped up and running on automatic, you can look more brilliant than you really are. Which means you'd be promoted away from here, which obviously benefits you, and also benefits me politically-since you have talent, it's better to have you as a protégé than a rival.

"So if all the accelerated drudgery of the last few weeks pays off, you'll have a tremendously better chance at the sort of brilliant success you need to be promoted away from Greasy Rock."

"Um, I thought-"

"I forbid the term officially because it offends Deimons. For that matter it offends me. But I know perfectly well that to you, this place is Greasy Rock."

"I dak. How likely do you really think it is that something like that will come up?"

"Based on all past experience, maybe fifty percent. After all, you and I have had two things that could have become real emergencies-that almost-war between Yellow Magenta Green Blue and Yellow Amber Cyan Red, and that sewage strike that the Jovian agitator-what was her name?"

"Vala Brnibov."

"Yes, right, I remember the software wouldn't accept her death warrant at first because it wanted there to be one more vowel in her name. Held her up in the airlock for half an hour-must have been terrible for her, not knowing what was going on and having to wait for the door to open for that long. Well, anyway, as a very junior vice procurator in charge, if you had coped with either situation solo, it would have worked wonders for your career.

"By the way, don't suffer an attack of cleverness and make something come up. I say that because, though I know that you are smarter and more circumspect than that, your uncle-"

"I'd already thought of that, sir, and messaged him on the subject, very bluntly, and you can depend upon it that I'll watch him toktru close while he's here."

Jak's Uncle Sibroillo was coming down from Ceres to Deimos on Eros's Torch, the same ship on which Waxajovna would be departing. He was a leader in Circle Four, a notorious zybot that was tolerated (barely) in the Hive and hunted zealously everywhere else. All zybots were theoretically illegal everywhere (no one wanted to let any social engineering conspiracy have a free hand) but most of the great powers tolerated a few zybots as clandestine auxiliaries to their own covert operations. Even then they had to be watched, for a zybot was a weapon that could turn in the hand.

Thanks to Uncle Sib, Jak had had his wild adventures on Earth, the Aerie, and Mercury; Sib's Circle Four involvement had gotten Jak nearly killed more times than he could easily count; and Sib had implanted, deep in Jak's liver, a microscopic memory sliver containing enough information to convict and execute one of the solar system's most dangerous criminals, Bex Riveroma. Riveroma wanted that sliver at any cost, and did not regard damage to Jak's liver as a cost-given his choice, he'd rather just have the liver without Jak.

But Sibroillo was also the man who had raised Jak, all the family he had. Jak was fond of the old gwont. Besides, Sib was supposedly not coming here on zybot business; he was celebrating his two hundredth birthday by going out on the Big Circuit, the trip around the solar system that took a few years to complete if you stopped and visited all the major inhabited places-the four lower planets, Earth's moon, the Aerie, Ceres, the moons of the upper planets, and at least a flyby of dark, cold Pluto/Charon where the Rubahy civilization squatted in its last haven.

"Luckily, sir, Uncle Sibroillo is traveling with Gweshira, his demmy, and she's pretty good at slowing him down and keeping a leash on him."

"But isn't she-"

"She's Circle Four herself, sir, yes, but she doesn't have his compulsion to rush in where angels fear to tread. (Nobody has a compulsion like his, believe me, sir.) Gweshira and I will sit on him, one way or another. Since he lived on Mars when he was young, and has toves to visit, I'm hoping he'll stay down there till I stuff him onto a departing ship; he's got departures for Venus, Vesta, or the Uranus system possible within a few months."

The Big Circuit never went in up-from-the-sun-and-back-down order. Planets move, sunclippers travel in arcs rather than straight lines, and quarkjets very nearly ignore solar gravity. Weaving among the complex tangle of possible trajectories, tourists on the Big Circuit bounced up and down the sun's gravity well on sunclippers, or leapt across it on quarkjets, picking up a few worlds on each bounce.

"I'll keep a tight rein on Uncle Sib," Jak reiterated, mentally crossing his fingers. "You really do have considerable administrative talent."

Waxajovna smiled. "That was exactly what I wanted to hear, and as Principle 106 reminds us, 'Telling your boss what he wants to hear is the very essence of administrative talent.' Now, you are no doubt aware that I have a great-great-granddaughter, who lives with me, and who is named Pikia."

"It would be difficult for me to be unaware of it, sir."

Waxajovna tried not to smile. "Let me just guess at your private opinions."

"Um."

"I see your diplomatic technique is coming along, Jinnaka.

"Now, life is very dull for Pikia. If I were to take her to the Hive with me, she would have ample chances to make life exciting, and do ten or so things that would keep her out of the PSA and therefore out of any decent career, forever. It's a family phase that I have now seen through five generations, masené I need to keep her out here in the dull until she's ready for the world, and boost her record so that she's admitted to the PSA.

"Now, I've arranged the sort of internship here, in our office, that one arranges for a relative. So she will be calling on you, here, first thing tomorrow. Her job is to help you. Your job is to cause whatever she does to constitute help, so that later you can write a glowing report about how helpful she was. And this way, everyone gets some help, and after all, we all need help, don't we?"

"I was just thinking that, sir."

"Good thinking, pizo. Now, I really must go back to my quarters one last time, and make sure that my bags really were picked up and are on their way to Eros's Torch. Unofficially, hello to your uncle, tell him to behave, and tell him to stay away from the ones that look like opossums-uh, better tell him that when his demmy's not around."

"You knew each other?"

"Much too well. Everyone knows your uncle. It's a miracle that anyone named Jinnaka can get a job anywhere." With a happy wave, Reeb Waxajovna airswam out of Jak's office, leaving Jak, for the first time, in charge of forty thousand people living in and on a tiny world.

Copyright 2003 John Barnes
Reprinted with permission.
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Synopsis

The acclaimed author of A Million Open Doors and Mother of Storms, John Barnes presents a thrilling new adventure featuring Jak Jinnaka-the thirty-sixth-century secret agent with a talent for spreading mayhem across the solar system and beyond.

TOO MANY SPIES SPOIL THE PLOT

A Martian monarch has taken possession of a priceless relic: the lifelog diary of the mysterious messiah who founded the Wager, the religion that forms the basis of all interstellar society. The Hive Intel conglomerate wants the lifelog and hires Jak to get it. It's a simple job, until other spies-including Ambassador Dujuv, Uncle Sib, and Jak's evil ex-girlfriend-arrive on Mars and turn the assignment into a wild ride of mind control, murder, and looming interplanetary war. For the lifelog contains a devastating secret that can overturn the status quo of whole worlds-a secret that Hive Intel will suppress at all costs. In the past, Jak has completed missions by betraying his friends. Now in order to succeed, Jak Jinnaka must betray the entire human race...

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Author

John Barnes is a multiple Hugo and Nebula Award nominee whose novels include the science fiction bestsellers Mother of Storms, A Million Open Doors, and Orbital Resonance. He lives in Gunnison, Colorado with his wife, the author Kara Dalkey.

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