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
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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 https://lccn.loc.gov/2017044125
ISBNs: 978-0-316-55824-2 (trade paperback), 978-0-316-55827-3 (ebook)
Table of Contents
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
For the survivors.
…solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
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.
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.