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Lilith Saintcrow

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  Copyright © 2018 by Lilith Saintcrow

  Excerpt from 84K copyright © 2018 by Claire North

  Excerpt from Cormorant Run copyright © 2017 by Lilith Saintcrow

  Author photograph by Daron Gildrow

  Cover design by Lauren Panepinto

  Cover illustration by Kirbi Fagan

  Cover copyright © 2018 by Hachette Book Group, Inc.

  Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce the creative works that enrich our culture.

  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.


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  First Edition: May 2018

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  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Saintcrow, Lilith, author.

  Title: Afterwar / Lilith Saintcrow.

  Description: First edition. | New York : Orbit, 2018.

  Identifiers: LCCN 2017044125| ISBN 9780316558242 (softcover) | ISBN 9780316558273 (ebook (open))

  Subjects: LCSH: Regression (Civilization)—Fiction. | Genetic engineering—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Science Fiction / Adventure. | FICTION / Science Fiction / Space Opera. | FICTION / Alternative History. | GSAFD: Science fiction. | Dystopias.

  Classification: LCC PS3619.A3984 A69 2018 | DDC 813/.6—dc23

  LC record available at

  ISBNs: 978-0-316-55824-2 (trade paperback), 978-0-316-55827-3 (ebook)


  Table of Contents


  Title Page





  Part One: Dies Irae Chapter One: Details Later

  Chapter Two: Regret

  Chapter Three: Last Bloody Hours

  Chapter Four: Good Folk

  Chapter Five: Total War

  Chapter Six: Incoming

  Chapter Seven: Skinny-Ass Impossible

  Chapter Eight: Light It Up

  Chapter Nine: Tightjaw

  Chapter Ten: Paint

  Chapter Eleven: Memphis

  Chapter Twelve: History

  Chapter Thirteen: Fast and Cautious

  Chapter Fourteen: Unconditional

  Chapter Fifteen: Magchip

  Chapter Sixteen: Back Home

  Chapter Seventeen: Reality

  Chapter Eighteen: Paperhead

  Chapter Nineteen: What Surrender Means

  Chapter Twenty: Four Hands, Four Feet, Two Hearts

  Chapter Twenty-One: Attended Personally

  Part Two: Sic Transit Chapter Twenty-Two: Interview

  Chapter Twenty-Three: Cures God of Us

  Chapter Twenty-Four: Ten Threes

  Chapter Twenty-Five: Get Out

  Chapter Twenty-Six: A Right to Be

  Chapter Twenty-Seven: Wrong Knock

  Chapter Twenty-Eight: To Mean Something

  Chapter Twenty-Nine: Palliative

  Chapter Thirty: Victim’s Luxury

  Chapter Thirty-One: Business from Gloria

  Chapter Thirty-Two: Get Your Hands Dirty

  Chapter Thirty-Three: Sad Little Stiff

  Chapter Thirty-Four: Real Fucking Eggs

  Chapter Thirty-Five: Our Time Now

  Chapter Thirty-Six: A Historical Defense

  Chapter Thirty-Seven: Much the Same

  Chapter Thirty-Eight: Not a Kampog

  Chapter Thirty-Nine: Good Morale

  Chapter Forty: Live and Learn

  Chapter Forty-One: Snail Safe

  Chapter Forty-Two: Miracle

  Chapter Forty-Three: Chemical Lie

  Part Three: Gloria Mundi Chapter Forty-Four: A Fine Subject

  Chapter Forty-Five: None of Us Right

  Chapter Forty-Six: Riot

  Chapter Forty-Seven: Inescapable Weight

  Chapter Forty-Eight: The Good and the Innocent

  Chapter Forty-Nine: Thought It Was Personal

  Chapter Fifty: Seein’ the Snakes

  Chapter Fifty-One: Listen to Reason

  Chapter Fifty-Two: What We Were Fighting

  Chapter Fifty-Three: An Upgrade

  Chapter Fifty-Four: Human Rockets

  Chapter Fifty-Five: Boss

  Chapter Fifty-Six: Ngombe’s Hands

  Chapter Fifty-Seven: No Chances

  Chapter Fifty-Eight: Check the Well

  Part Four: Misericordia Chapter Fifty-Nine: Blood Sooner

  Chapter Sixty: Among Friends Again

  Chapter Sixty-One: Inside the Ride

  Chapter Sixty-Two: Thank You and a Citation

  Chapter Sixty-Three: Someone Else’s Bad Luck

  Chapter Sixty-Four: No Spook Factor Needed

  Chapter Sixty-Five: Good News, Bad News

  Chapter Sixty-Six: Almost Sure

  Chapter Sixty-Seven: We Found Out

  Chapter Sixty-Eight: Degenerates

  Chapter Sixty-Nine: Suspiciously Like Home

  Chapter Seventy: It’s Protection

  Chapter Seventy-One: Nada, Nada

  Chapter Seventy-Two: Some Mad Genie

  Part Five: Salvus Chapter Seventy-Three: The Greenbelt

  Chapter Seventy-Four: We All Still There

  Chapter Seventy-Five: Funhouse Mirror

  Chapter Seventy-Six: Ain’t Sleepin’ Again

  Chapter Seventy-Seven: Mabel Mouse Patrol

  Chapter Seventy-Eight: Not High at All

  Chapter Seventy-Nine: Some Fine-Ass Meals

  Chapter Eighty: Dragonfly, Conscience

  Chapter Eighty-One: Forgotten Corners

  Chapter Eighty-Two: Among the Graves

  Chapter Eighty-Three: Cold Kisses

  Chapter Eighty-Four: Follow Suit

  Chapter Eighty-Five: Someday, Somehow

  Chapter Eighty-Six: Group Up


  Extras Meet the Author

  A Preview of 84K

  A Preview of Cormorant Run

  By Lilith Saintcrow

  Praise for the works of Lilith Saintcrow

  Orbit Newsletter

  For the survivors.

  …solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.


  Part One

  Dies Irae

  Chapter One

  Details Later

  February 21, ’98

  The last day in hell ran with cold, stinking rain. A gunmetal-gray sky opened up its sluices, mortars and bigger artillery shook the wooded horizon-hills at 0900, and roll call in the central plaza—down to two thousand scarecrows and change, the dregs of Reklamation Kamp Gloria—took only two and a half hours. Pale smears peered from the red-painted kamp brothel windows, disappearing whenever the Komma
ndant’s oil-slick head and unsettling light blue gaze turned in their direction. Stolid and heavy in his natty black uniform, Kommandant Major General Porter stood on a heavy platform; the raw edges of its boards, once pale and sticky with sap, were now the same shade as the lowering sky. The skeletons in dun, once-orange dungarees stood unsteadily under a triple pounding—first the Kommandant’s words crackling over the PA, then the thick curtains of rain, and last the rolling thunder in the hills.

  Not just partisans, some whispered, their lips unmoving. Convicts and kampogs learned quickly how to pass along bites of news or speculation, despite the contact regulations—worth a flogging if you were caught talking, a worse flogging if more than two kampogs were “gathering.”

  Nope, not just partisans. Federals.

  Feral rumors, breeding swiftly, ran between the thin-walled Quonsets, bobbing over the reeking, sucking mud like balls of ignes fatui down in the swampy work sites, drifting into the empty stone rectangle of the quarry, flashing like sparks off the sicksticks the uniforms and jar captains carried. Raiders, Federals, knights riding dragons—who cared? Hope wasn’t a substitute for a scrap of moldy potato or a filched, crumbling cube of protein paste.

  On the second floor of the joyhouse, in a room with dingy pinkish walls, cheap thin viscose curtains twitched a little, and the narrow bed underneath them shuddered as he finished. The bedspread had been freshly laundered, and the white, sharp smell of harsh soap and dead electrical heat from the industrial dryers filled Lara’s empty skull. It was a darkness full of small things—a glimpse of the dusty silk flowers in the tiny vase on the nightstand, a twinge from her discarded body, the burn of slick soylon fabric against her cheek, the indistinct mutter of the PA as Kommandant Porter, the God of Gloria, spoke. Someone would later tell her the Kommandant, his hair swept back and his mirror-shined boots splattered with that thick, gluey mud, had made a speech about how the shivering pogs had paid their debt to society and were to be taken to a Re-Edukation Kamp. Porter audibly hoped they would remember the struggle and sacrifice the uniforms had suffered to remake them—brown immies, any-color degenerates, white politicals since the brown ones were shot, traitors all—into productive members of the Great United States of America First.

  It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered then but getting through the next sixty seconds. Lara heard all sorts of details later, without meaning to. Right now, though, she lay flattened and breathless under the weight on her back, life and hope and air squeezed out.

  “I love you,” the Kaptain whispered in her left ear, hot sour breath against her dark hair. It had grown back, first in the sorting shed and now here, though the ends were brittle and fraying. She was lucky to be in the pink room; the plywood stalls downstairs could see as many as six, seven an hour between first roll call at 0500 to midnight, no breaks, no lunch. Up here in the rooms named for colors, though, there were special clients. A special diet too, more calories than the average kampog, especially a twenty-niner, could dream of. Exemption from even “light” labor in the sorting sheds.

  Some of the uniformed guards, or the jar kaptains—the highest class of kampog, because why force a uniform to work in the stinking jar-barracks, where you lay three or four to a shelf-bed—brought “presents.” Tiny containers of scent, either liquid or paste, not enough to get drunk on. Lipstick—it was edible, more welcome than the damn cologne. They often brought food, the best present of all. Cigarettes to trade. Some of the girls here drank the colorless, eye-watering liquor the uniforms were rationed, instead of trading it away for more substantial calories.

  It let you forget, and that was worth a great deal. A few minutes of release from the tension was so seductive. The poison dulled you, though, and dull didn’t last long here. Soaking in bathtub booze was a good way to drown.

  “I love you,” the Kaptain repeated, the hiss of a zipper closing under his words. The mattress had finished its song of joyless stabbing, and it barely indented under her slight, lonely weight. “I’ve organized a car, and gas. A good coat. I’ll come back and get you.” He bent over to arrange her, pushing her shoulder so she had to move, wanting her to look at him.

  Rolled over on her back, Lara gazed at the ceiling, the damp trickle between her legs aching only a little. More raw lumber. Paint was a luxury—the red on the brothel’s outside was left over from something else. The only other painted building was the Kommandant’s House on the outskirts, with its white clapboard walls and picket fence. Lara had even seen the high-haired, floral-dressed wife once or twice, sitting on the porch with a glossy magazine back when the war was going well. Some kampogs used to work in the house or the garden, but that stopped when the siege of Denver was broken. Even the Kommandant’s family had to go back to the cities, retreating eastward.

  The Kaptain was blond, his bloodshot blue eyes showing his worry over the war. He was her special client, and his status meant she didn’t have others. Black wool uniform with the special red piping, the silver Patriot Akademy ring on his left third finger mimicking a wedding band, the back and sides of his head shaved but the top longer. He’d begun growing it out a little while ago.

  When the war turned.

  He examined her while he buttoned his outer jacket, settling his cuffs, made sure he was zipped up completely. A hurried visit, for him. How many hours had she spent in this room, blessedly alone, and how many with him talking at her, unloading his worries, his thoughts, words dripping over every surface, trying to work their way in? Most of her energy went toward being impervious, locked up inside her skull. Building and maintaining walls for the steel bearings rolling inside her, so their noise could drown out everything else.

  “I’ll be right back.” The Kaptain bent over the bed again, and his lips pressed against her cheek. There was almost no pad of fatty tissue over her teeth—still strong, they hadn’t rotted out yet. Childhood fluoride had done her a good turn, and with McCall’s crew there had been pine needles. Berries. Ration bars with orange flavor and minerals all in one nasty, grainy mouthful.

  She was lucky, really, and how fucked-up was it that she knew? The question was a waste of energy. Here, you couldn’t afford to ask. Every effort was channeled into one thing only.


  “I love you,” he whispered yet again. Maybe he needed to convince himself, after all this time. His breath made a scorch circle, a red-hot iron pressed against shrinking flesh. Branded, like the Christian Courts were so fond of decreeing. B for “bandit” or P for “partisan,” or the ever-popular A for “scarlet woman,” because “adulterer” could possibly be the man, and you couldn’t blame him.

  The Kaptain slammed the door on his way out. Yelled something down the hall—an order, maybe. Quick, hard bootsteps, scurrying back and forth. Looked like he was clearing the top floor. The girls up here might be grateful for the respite, unless they were waiting for a special to bring them something. If they were, they’d assume Lara had pissed the Kaptain off somehow, or something. They didn’t quite dare to band together against her—it wasn’t worth the risk—but the top-floor joyhouse girls were pariahs even among kampogs, and she was a pariah even among them.

  Exclusivity, like luck, was suspect.

  I’ll take care of you, he’d promised. Wait for me. Like she had any sort of choice. So Lara just lay there until he went away, his presence leaching slowly out of the small, overdone, dark little room. Nobody wanted bright lights in a joyhouse. A lot of the specials may have even honestly believed the girls in here were glad to see them, glad to be somehow saved.

  As if anyone here didn’t know it only took one wrong move, one glance, or even nothing at all, and into the killing bottles you went.

  It didn’t matter. She drifted, letting her ears fill with the high weird cotton-wool sound that meant she was outside her skin. Just turned a few inches, so she could look at whatever was happening to her body without feeling.

  After some indeterminate period of time—maybe a half hour, maybe more—the throbbi
ng beat of the ancient wheezebox downstairs thumped-ran down to a stop. Without that heartbeat, the expectant hush inside the red-painted building turned painful.

  When Lara pushed herself up on her sharp-starved elbows, stealing back into her body bit by bit from the faraway place where not much could hurt her, the first rounds took out two of the watchtowers, splashing concrete, broken glass, slivers of red-hot metal, and rags of guardflesh down into Suicide Alley along the electrified fence.

  The Federals—and Swann’s Riders—had arrived.

  Chapter Two


  It took longer than Adjutant Kommandant Kaptain Eugene Thomas liked to finish his arrangements for a retreat, mostly because Kommandant Major General Porter, unwilling to delegate or make a goddamn decision, kept Thomas for a good half hour, going on about paperwork. Maybe Porter never thought the Federals would have the unmitigated gall to actually interfere with his little slice of republic cleansing, or maybe the old man had cracked under the pressure. He was certainly sweating enough. There were dark patches under the kommandant’s arms, sopping wet, and his flushed forehead was an oil slick under the crap melting out of his dyed-black hair.

  At last, though, Gene saluted and was released with a packet of “sensitive documents” to take east, flimsies and digital keys rustling and clacking inside a tan leather pouch. The stairs outside Porter’s office were choked with guards, but no officers—Gene’s fellow shoulderstraps would know better than to possibly be sent on some bullshit detail while the degenerates were already so close. If Gene hadn’t been such a believer in prudently covering his own ass at all times, he would have already collected her from the pink room and would be speeding past the gate in a shiny black kerro, watching the girl’s face as she opened the box and the fur coat, vital and black and soft as a cloud, rippled under her chewed fingertips. Even her habit of nibbling at her nails was enchanting.