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Counterfeit Kings
by Adam Connell
Phobos, 2004

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“We’re going to have to stand and fight. They’re right on top of us,” Horrocks said. He gorged the thrusters with power looted from the ship’s secondary demands.

His wife toggled through the viewscreens. The perimeter cameras tracked pursuit ships as they weaved through the background. “There’s at least twenty,” she said. “Closer to thirty. Two dead aft.”

“What about the Spot Drive?” Horrocks said.

“It’s still cold from the last jump.”

“Put your belt on,” Horrocks said.

“I hate wearing the belt.”

“Sari, put the fucking belt on,” Horrocks said.

Sari reached up to the head of her chair and pulled down the Y-shaped harness. Horrocks was already wearing his.

The ship lurched upward, briefly, then shot backward as Horrocks switched to the rear thrusters. Sari’s hair flew forward and she cried out. The Moondrunk rattled as the twin ships directly behind her broke over her back. Silver and black debris tumbled past the forward viewscreen. “My stomach,” Sari said.

Horrocks brought the ship up in a tight arc, trying to flee the cadre of aggressors.

The Moondrunk rattled again.

“That wasn’t debris we just hit,” Horrocks said. “We were rammed. Check the screens. Come on, Sari! Check the screens. Where are they?”

The Moondrunk snapped to a halt that nearly dislocated both command chairs from their floor sockets. “They’ve got hold of us,” Horrocks said.

The ship was being forced down. Horrocks applied more pressure to the forward thrusters but couldn’t arrest the Moondrunk’s descent. Two more tethers punctured the Moondrunk’s hull.

“Must be hooked to a winch,” Horrocks said. He locked the thrusters on high, reached down to his seat and unlocked the harness. “Get into the bunker. Take the dogs.”

“I can’t move my arms. I can’t get out of the chair,” Sari said.

Horrocks leaned over to unstrap her.

“You’re wasting fuel,” she said. “Should have let me fly. We’re still going down. May as well turn it off.”

Horrocks nodded. Sari shut the engine. The Moondrunk descended quickly and collided with the other ship. Horrocks fell across his wife. Her shoulder hit him in the cheek.

“Sorry,” Horrocks said and stood up straight. He helped Sari to her feet and guided her down the hallway outside the cockpit.

“Is it the Bastards?” she asked.

“I’m sure it is. Get into the bunker and stay there.”

They both stopped when they heard the magnetic umbilical latch onto their ship. The light above the exit hatch shone green. The locks on the outer door were easily tripped. Two large men stepped inside. A third stayed on the lip of the umbilical. He aimed a rifle at Horrocks. “Tinton wants to see you,” the man said. He swiveled the rifle and aimed it at Sari.

The two large intruders lifted their hands to show they were unarmed as they moved toward Horrocks and Sari.

Sari spat in the face of the nearest one. He slugged her in the arm and she fell back against the wall. Horrocks sprang forward. The man removed a steel rod from his pocket and struck Horrocks across the face.

Horrocks staggered but managed to get in front of his wife. The intruder wiped Sari’s spittle from his nose and lashed out at Horrocks again. Horrocks grabbed the arm and cracked it over his knee.

“My elbow,” he said and doubled over. Horrocks lifted the arm like a crank and threw the goon into his partner.

The man with the rifle stepped through the portal onto the Moondrunk. “I hate coming all the way through,” he said and pointed his rifle at Sari again. “Sweetheart,” he said. Then, to one of the goons: “This ain’t no peepshow, Loome. Help your brother up and get these two married cretins under control.”

“Calder, my arm.”

“Do something. And you,” Calder said to Horrocks, “you’ll let them. That’s how this works. Because if it doesn’t work, I’ll be forced to use my new gun and I’d rather not. Then I’ll be forced to fly your ship. So do what I say.”

Calder was in his mid-thirties. His beard was as thin as the hair on his crown. He had two black plums for nostrils.

“Are you a Bastard, too?” Horrocks asked.

“Not the king’s,” Calder said. He licked the corner of his mouth and motioned toward the door with his gun. “Don’t want to keep Tinton waiting.”

The uninjured goon shoved Horrocks and Sari forward. The other one was propped against a wall, eyes closed, his bad arm held against his stomach like a jumble of frail twigs.

Horrocks noticed that the men were wearing oversized miners’ jackets. “You’re not miners,” Horrocks said.

“And you’re not a hero. Not anymore. Not to me,” Calder said.

Horrocks and Sari walked through the umbilical. Their footsteps echoed off the gravity generators in the floorboards.

“Mind your step at the end there,” Calder said from behind them. “There’s a bit of a ridge. You’ll trip if you’re not careful.”

“’Cause you care,” Horrocks said.

“Just being hospitable. That’s how I am,” Calder said and gave Sari a hard push.

Horrocks stepped over the ridge and onto the ship. Sari came in behind him.

“To the right, down the alleyway,” Calder said.

The floor was carpeted in blue shag. Horrocks couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a carpeted ship. The air was overly humid and in need of recycling; it smelled of fried food and cinnamon beer.

“Another right,” Calder said. “That’s it. Big as an auditorium, isn’t it?”

Four long tables had been pushed to the walls. Twenty men and women surrounded a raised chair set three-quarters of the way into the room. There was a man in the chair. His hair reached past his shoulders and was exceptionally fine. Much finer than the king’s, Horrocks thought. The back of the man’s head was reflected in the sloping window behind him. His bald spot gleamed on the surface of the glass like a pink coin. The rest of the window was tenanted with stars that shifted counterclockwise. Jupiter, while absent from view, was present in a haze that colored the stars orange. The man in the chair pushed the sleeves of his suit past his elbows and eased himself forward, one leg crooked behind the other.

“Horrocks,” the man said.


Tinton tried to stifle it, but a smile took the reins of his face. “Didn’t think you’d remember me. Me, a worthless Bastard.”

“I remember,” Horrocks said.

“And your wife,” Tinton said. “Of course I—”

“I don’t remember you,” Sari said. She held her arm where the goon had struck her.

“Welcome to the Res Nullius. I had to talk to you both. Face to face. Someone check them for weapons.”

Four Bastards strode toward the couple and patted them down.

“Be careful where you touch me,” Sari told one of the Bastards as his hands worked up past her ribcage.

The Bastard said, “I wouldn’t—”

“Just you mind her delicate areas,” Horrocks said.

Tinton turned to the people milling around his chair. “Get back. Give me some room to breathe. You’re leeching the air, all of you.”

The crowd detached themselves from the throne and loitered by the tables. Some of the Bastards were in their thirties, a few were in their twenties and one was no older than eight. They all shared similar features: light eyebrows, a slender nose, sharp green eyes, weak cheekbones, long limbs. All of them had gray in their hair, even the youngest.

Tinton turned back to Horrocks with an apologetic look on his face. “The king is dead. You know that,” he said.

“I know two days ago someone tried to kill him but they got one of his sons instead,” Horrocks said. He took a step toward Tinton but his shirt was caught by a guard standing behind him. “One of his real sons. The king only had three. Now two of them are dead.”

“We’re his sons,” Tinton said. He sat back in mock relaxation, then inched forward again. “We’re all of us his sons and daughters. The king has an enormous supply of children, if he’d only acknowledge us.”

“He never will,” Sari said.

Tinton sighed through his nose and folded his arms in his lap. “He’s dead.”

“You need him to be dead. That’s the only way you’ve a claim on his kingdom, if he’s dead,” Horrocks said.

Tinton’s mouth became hard. “He might be alive, though I doubt it. If he is alive, he will acknowledge us as his own. We’ll make him see it our way. No father could turn his back on a family so earnestly seeking his favor. Bring out the doctor.”

A short man with white hair was escorted to Tinton’s chair. There was a deep, shadowy crease down the center of the man’s forehead. A baldric of surgical tools hung across his white smock. His left hand was bandaged. He bowed curtly and shuffled backward. The crowd swallowed him whole.

“You kidnapped him?” Horrocks said.

“He came to me,” Tinton said. “He knows the king will need immediate care if he’s found, and he knows we have the best chance of finding him.”

“How?” Horrocks said. “If he’s alive, I’m the one who’s going to find him. I know him best. I have the experience.” Horrocks tried to take another step forward and was again checked by the guard behind him.

“I know about your experience during the Push. Everybody knows. I’m not the one who’ll be looking. That would be unseemly. We’ve hired Guilfoyle.”

“Guilfoyle, that fucking grave robber?” Horrocks said.

“Say what you want about Guilfoyle, but he never quits.”

Horrocks looked at Tinton in disgust. “Guilfoyle.”

“I hear you saved his life,” Tinton said.

“During the Push,” Horrocks said.

“I understand he’s never forgiven you.”

Horrocks didn’t respond.

“I know the queen engaged you to find the king,” Tinton said. “You need to find him more than we do. If you do find him, hand him over. It’ll make for a smoother transition.”

“Nothing’s going to be smooth about this transition,” Sari said.

“You need to find him. You have more to gain,” Tinton said.

“That’s not why we’re here. I have nothing to gain,” Horrocks said.

“So much to lose, then. Your Furnace. Your insignificant Furnace mine that relies on the king’s protection. Without the king, you’re naked. We all know what happens to a kingdom without a king. First it goes to shit, then it goes to the strongest person out there. That’s me. I’ll rape that mine of yours.”

Horrocks rushed forward and was met by a tide of Bastards. “You don’t know a thing, you brat,” Horrocks yelled.

Tinton rose out of his chair and shouted Horrocks down. “I know what you paid for that mine. You will lose it to me.”

The Bastards pushed Horrocks back. Sari whispered into his ear.

Tinton sat down.

“The queen,” Horrocks said.

“The queen is hiding,” Tinton said. “She has no power, no support. Tell her to stay hidden because when she comes up for air we’ll choke her.” He picked at the armrests. One of them came loose and he jiggled it with his fingertips. “Stay hidden. It suits her and her weak boy. I am the king’s oldest living son.”

“You’re an illegitimate hopeful,” Horrocks said.

“My mother was a Furnace whore. She serviced the miners,” Tinton said. “All of us here have proof the king is our father. If we’re hopeful, it’s only for what’s ours. Acknowledgement, and the inheritance of the kingdom.”

Sari squeezed Horrocks’ hand. She knew he was out of breath. He could try and hide it but she could always tell; it happened so often.

A few Bastards by the tables were shoving each other. A portion of Jupiter rolled into view, a bright crescent framed in the window behind Tinton. The planet always reminded Sari of a child’s arts and crafts assignment. A glass globe filled with layers of colored sand. Somewhere around Jupiter would be his numerous moons, but the windowpane was cheap and made distinction impossible.

Calder came into the room. His rifle was gone. He held a rectangular gray box in both hands. A confusing array of capped wires sagged from the lid.

Tinton got off his seat, took the box from Calder and walked toward Horrocks. “Your Spot Drive,” Tinton said. He gripped the wires like a lock of hair and pulled them out. Tinton cocked his head to the side and studied Horrocks’ face, then lifted the impotent Spot Drive over his head and dashed it to the floor. “I hope you weren’t planning on getting anywhere in a hurry.”

Excerpted from Counterfeit Kings by Adam Connell. Copyright © 2004 by Adam Connell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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