A Man without Honor
by James S.A. Corey
As we passed through the vast interior of the Serkeriah, Carina Meer – for this proved to be the captain’s name – did her best to apprise me of our situation, and I will do my best to summarize here what she said to me. That body that we call Mars was once home to a vast and flourishing civilization. Great cities of living crystal filled with sweet water. The seven races lived together there in harmony and conflict, peace and war, much in the fashion of the nations of our own world. She told me of being a child and looking up at the vast night sky to see the brightness that that, to her, was our own world, and I found myself powerfully moved by the image.
Those cities now lie in shards, the canals empty and dry. The Ikkean race, for reasons known only in their own insectile councils, turned en masse upon the other six races. The soft-shelled Manae, wise and gentle Sord (of whom La’an was the first of my acquaintance), radian Imesqu, vast and slow Norian, mechanical Achreon, and our own cousin Humanity were driven under the surface of the planet, to live in the great caverns where the Ikkeans feared to follow.
The six conquered races lived in darkness and despair until Carina’s borther, Hermeton, happened in his alchemical investigations upon a rare alloy capable of bringing enormous power. His new solar engines, it was hoped, might tame the Ikkean threat, should the alloy be found in sufficient quantity.
To this end, the conquered races had sent their agent to the rich profundity that is Earth, to gather from the violence of our planet’s core the means of their liberty. Great was their feat of discovery, for while their power is vast, their position with the Ikkean threat is tenuous. An alliance between the Ikkean race and the humans of Earth would certainly have spelled doom to the six races. And their fears, as you will see, were not unjustified.
The Palace of the Underworld had grown to almost twice its height when the enemy’s flying scouts appeared.
Imagine if you will, Your Grace, the wast Martian sky, as purple as a lilac, with the same sun that shines on Westminster and London here taking on a wholly foreign aspect, with wide tendrils of rainbow snaking from its centrally glowing orb. See, if you will, the vast ruins that had once been the pride of seven races with their crystal hearts laid bare by storms and war; the massive, dying river, slow as an old man’s blood ; the bleeding and desperate crew hauling the hope of survival on a half-shattered cart that struggled and failed to rise from the ground like a wounded moth.
The air was thin and held the scent of metal and spent gunpowder. The heat of the sun oppressed as powerfully as a tropical noontime.
Now hear the familiar cry of Quohog – awch loy – smoke ahoy. Picture a storm of dragonflies, each as large as a man’s arm. They rose in the east, thick as the billows of a vast conflagration, and spread out across the sky. I heard Carina Meer’s cry when she caught sitght of them and saw the blood drain from her tawny face.
A Martian Castle. Image : © Megan Jorgensen