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Authors: David Weber

How Firm a Foundation

BOOK: How Firm a Foundation
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For Alice G. Weber, with love.

Hey, Mom! Look! I did it!

 

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Maps

February, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

March, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

April, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

May, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

June, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

July, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

August, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

September, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

October, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

November, Year of God 895

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

February, Year of God 896

Chapter I

Characters

Glossary

Tor Books by David Weber

Copyright

FEBRUARY,
YEAR OF GOD 895

.I.

Castaway Islands, Great Western Ocean; Imperial Palace, City of Cherayth, Kingdom of Chisholm; and Ehdwyrd Howsmyn’s Study, Delthak, Kingdom of Old Charis

Nights didn’t come much darker, Merlin Athrawes reflected as he stood gazing up at the cloud-choked, stormy sky. There were no stars, and no moon, through those clouds, and although it was summer in Safehold’s southern hemisphere, the
Castaway Islands were almost four thousand miles below the equator on a planet whose average temperature was rather lower than Old Terra’s to begin with. That made “summer” a purely relative term, and he wondered again how the islands had come to be named.

There were four of them, none of which had ever been
individually
named. The largest was just under two hundred and fifty miles in its longest
dimension; the smallest was barely twenty-seven miles long; and aside from a few species of arctic wyverns and the seals (which actually resembled the Terran species of the same name) which used their limited beaches, he’d seen no sign of life anywhere on any of them. He could well believe that any ship which had ever approached the barren, steep-sided volcanic peaks rising from the depths of
the Great Western Ocean had managed to wreck themselves. What he couldn’t figure out was why anyone would have been in the vicinity in the first place, and how there could have been any surviving castaways to name the islands afterward.

He knew they hadn’t been named by the terraforming crews which had first prepared Safehold for human habitation. He had access to Pei Shan-wei’s original maps,
and these miserable hunks of weather and wind-lashed igneous rock, sand, and shingle bore no name on them. There were still quite a few unnamed bits and pieces of real estate scattered around the planet, actually, despite the detailed atlases which were part of the
Holy Writ
of the Church of God Awaiting. There were far fewer than there’d been when Shan-wei and the rest of the Alexandria Enclave
were murdered, though, and he found it fascinating (in a historical sort of way) to see which of them had been christened only after dispersion had started shifting the colonists’ descendants’ Standard English into Safehold’s present dialects.

He wasn’t here to do etiological research on planetary linguistics, however, and he turned his back to the howling wind and examined the last of the emitters
once more.

The device was about half his own height and four feet across, a mostly featureless box with a couple of closed access panels, one on each side. There were quite a few other similar devices—some quite a bit larger; most about the same size or smaller—scattered around the four islands, and he opened one of the panels to study the glowing LEDs.

He didn’t really
have
to do it, of course.
He could have used his built-in com to consult the artificial intelligence known as Owl who was actually going to be conducting most of this experiment anyway. And he didn’t really need the LEDs, either; the storm-lashed gloom was daylight clear to his artificial eyes. There were some advantages to having been dead for a thousand standard years or so, including the fact that his PICA body was
immune to little things like hypothermia. He’d come to appreciate those advantages more deeply, in many ways, than he ever had when a living, breathing young woman named Nimue Alban had used her PICA only occasionally, which didn’t keep him from sometimes missing that young woman with an aching, empty need.

He brushed that thought aside—not easily, but with practiced skill—and closed the panel
with a nod of satisfaction. Then he crunched back across the rocky flat to his recon skimmer, climbed the short ladder, and settled into the cockpit. A moment later, he was rising on counter-grav, turbines compensating for the battering wind as he climbed quickly to twenty thousand feet. He broke through the overcast and climbed another four thousand feet, then leveled out in the thinner, far calmer
air.

There was plenty of moonlight up here, above the storm wrack, and he gazed down, drinking in the beauty of the black and silver-struck cloud summits. Then he drew a deep breath—purely out of habit, not out of need—and spoke.

“All right, Owl. Activate phase one.”

“Activating, Lieutenant Commander,” the computer said from its hidden cavern at the base of Safehold’s tallest mountain, almost
thirteen thousand miles from Merlin’s present location. The signal between the recon skimmer and the computer was bounced off one of the Self-Navigating Autonomous Reconnaissance and Communications platforms Merlin had deployed in orbit around the planet. Those heavily stealthed, fusion-powered SNARCs were the most deadly weapons in Merlin’s arsenal. He relied on them heavily, and they provided
him and the handful of human beings who knew his secret with communications and recon capabilities no one else on the planet could match.

BOOK: How Firm a Foundation
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