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Authors: Jaine Fenn

Principles of Angels

BOOK: Principles of Angels
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Table of Contents
Principles of Angels
A Gollancz eBook
Copyright © Jaine Fenn 2008
All rights reserved.
The right of Jaine Fenn to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Great Britain in 2008 by
The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
Orion House
5 Upper Saint Martin’s Lane
London, WC2H 9EA
An Hachette UK Company
This eBook first published in 2010 by Gollancz.
With thanks to Barry Andrews and SHRIEKBACK for permission to reprint a verse from ‘The Big Hush’, from the album OIL AND GOLD, © 1985, Island Record Inc. All rights reserved.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 0 5750 8718 7
This eBook produced by Jouve, France
All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor to be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
For D. The only thing that matters more
Is there a flame in the dark?
Is there a bright heart star?
These creatures look the same now
We freeze wherever we are
We wake alone in the blackness
We sleep whenever we fall
One dream all around us
This big hush infects us all
Desperation is a tender trap
It gets you every time
Taro lay still, eyes wide, ears straining, an arm’s length from death.
There it was again, the sound that had woken him: a shrill whistle off to his left. A moment later, it was answered by two longer ones, away to the right.
The sound of a hunt.
He stood carefully. He’d spent the night on a mazeway, one of the thousands of ledges lashed and pinned to the vanes hanging below the floating disc of the City. The labyrinth of open-sided mazeways and enclosed homespaces formed the twilight world of the Undertow, Taro’s home. Below him, the early morning light broke the planet’s barren surface into a mosaic of orange rock and black shadow. Taro looked away, blinking to clear the bright after-images of a quick and easy end to his troubles.
Gotta stay sharp.
The hunters were probably after a meatbaby, but since his world had gone to shit three days ago, he was fair game too.
He picked up the pack he’d been using as a pillow, stuffed his blanket in the top and, keeping his back pressed against the vane that supported the mazeway, began to edge sideways. After three steps, he froze. A shadow flitted across the T-junction ahead, where this mazeway ended at another, wider one.
Another whistle, closer, but coming from hubwards, the direction the hunter had gone. Looked like they hadn’t spotted him. So he just needed to stop his legs shaking, get his breathing back under control and move off in the other direction - but cautious-like, as this was disputed territory. He’d been so tired last night that he’d just picked a quiet dead-end to stretch out on. He hadn’t even tethered himself, even though the gap between the mazeways ran to three metres here, and wasn’t properly netted. That kind of carelessness would get him killed now he didn’t have an Angel to protect him.
No, don’t think about that, don’t think about Malia.
The next whistle came from further off.
At the junction he had a choice: rimwards or hubwards, the direction he thought the hunt was headed. He peered that way: the mazeway went off long and straight, with plenty of support ropes and a fully netted gap. The nets at the far end were swinging back and forth. Someone - probably the hunt’s prey - had gone that way recently: a meatbaby’s twisted limbs allowed them to take to the nets where most downsiders wouldn’t risk it.
‘Hoi, Angel-boy!’
The voice came from rimwards, behind him. Taro’s first instinct was to run - but then he’d be heading into the hunt. And the speaker should’ve seen that Taro wore City colours in his hair, so he would think twice before attacking. Taro flicked a finger to release the catch on one of his wrist-sheaves and turned slowly, feeling the hilt of his fleck slide into his hand.
A lag a couple of years older than him was standing a few paces up the rimwards mazeway. He held a vane-cutter - not a good range weapon, but perfect for butcher-work - and wore strands of orange and green plaited into his lank pale hair. Limnel’s colours. Resh, that was his name, Taro recalled, one of Limnel’s seconds, with a rep for mindless thuggery and unquestioning obedience to his gang-boss.
Resh nodded at the blade in Taro’s hand. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ he lisped through the gap between his two missing front teeth. ‘You ain’t the dish o’ the day. But yer in me way.’
Taro stepped back to leave the path clear. ‘Mazeway’s all yours.’
Resh sauntered up to him. ‘Yeah. Some of us gotta work fer our food, y’know? Oh, wait, so do you now, doncha? Shame it’s an invite-only hunt.’
Taro said nothing. Until three days ago he’d been one of the lucky few: Angel lineage, protected and revered. But since his line-mother had joined his birth-mother in the Heart of the City - or whatever paradise or hell really lay beyond death - he was on his own, as Resh couldn’t resist reminding him.
He held his breath as the other youth passed him. In a world where water was currency, washing was a luxury, but Resh smelled bad even by Undertow standards, the rancid stink of sweat mixing with the sour reek of burnt mash on his breath.
A sequence of three short whistles came from hubwards. Resh glanced back at Taro and said with a sneer, ‘Boss’s offer’s still open, y’know. Fer now.’ Then he headed off purposefully. If the rumours were true, Resh would be in no hurry to finish off the hunt’s prey. Meatbabies might have twisted limbs and simple minds, but they were more or less human. Resh would have other pleasures on his mind first.
Once he’d rounded a couple of corners and could no longer hear the hunt’s whistles, Taro stopped. He was still shaking, and his throat was parched.
After checking no one was around, he sat down and opened the leather hammock that, now he had no homespace to sling it, doubled as his pack. His remaining possessions made a pitiful tally: the clothes he stood up in plus his flecks, the knives fashioned from slivers of vane material and worn at each wrist; and in the pack: a harness of twisted cord with a plaited rope tether; one thin blanket; a spare shirt, as dirty as the one he wore; a bent metal spoon and a bone-handled eating knife; a plastic bowl and cup; a rusty hand-mirror; and, wrapped in rags to cushion it, the flute carved from his birth-mother’s arm-bone, his only memento of the stranger who loved him, but who had died before he had the chance to love her, leaving him in the care of her sister. He found what he was after at the bottom. The waterskin was all but empty. He sucked the last few drops from it, tipping his head back against the vane.
So, Limnel would still let him join his vagabond troupe of muggers, liggers, thieves and tarts. The gang-boss had made the offer the evening after Malia took the fall, striding into the homespace Taro had shared with his line-mother without a by-your-leave. ‘So, boy, word is yer all alone now. I could use someone like you. Take up the old hobby full-time, neh?’
Taro, still in shock at losing his protector, his last surviving relative, had murmured, ‘No thanks, Limnel. Don’t think so.’
The gang-boss had looked around the central common-room, lingering on the dark stain on the nets strung across the gap in the middle of the floor. ‘You won’t hold onto this place long by yerself, y’know. Think about it.’ Then he’d left.
The next morning, soon after dawn, a medium-sized troupe - five adults and three children - came round. They were armed with flecks and one ancient-looking boltgun, but they didn’t want trouble. They wanted somewhere to live, and there was no reason why they shouldn’t have this place. From the smell of them they were shit-gardeners and a large, isolated homespace that had once belonged to an Angel was perfect for their necessary but anti-social trade. They eased Taro out almost apologetically, waiting while he bundled his things into his hammock. He didn’t take anything of Malia’s. Her room had been out of bounds when she was alive and he couldn’t face going in there now she was dead.
He had asked everyone in his small group of friends for a place to stay, but no one had space in their troupe for an extra mouth. He thought he might at least be able to beg safe crash-space for a day or two, but had no luck, though one ex-girlfriend had given him a refill of water. He couldn’t be sure how much his cold reception was due to his association with a now-fallen Angel and how much resulted from Limnel putting the word out that he wanted Taro for himself. At the time he’d seen this rejection by those he’d considered friends as justice; he didn’t deserve a break, because his line-mother’s fall had been his fault.
BOOK: Principles of Angels
2.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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