Arabella and the Battle of Venus

The swashbuckling Arabella Ashby is back for a brand new adventure in the ongoing story of her life among the stars. Arabella and the Battle of Venus is available July 18th from Tor Books.

Arabella’s wedding plans to marry Captain Singh of the Honorable Mars Trading Company are interrupted when her fiancé is captured by the French and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp on swampy Venus. Now, Arabella must find passage to an enemy-controlled planet in the middle of a war, bribe or fight her way past vicious guards, and rescue her Captain. To do this she must enlist the help of the dashing privateer, Daniel Fox of the Touchstone and build her own clockwork navigational automaton in order to get to Venus before the dread French general, Joseph Fouché, the Executioner of Lyon.

Once on Venus, Arabella, Singh, and Fox soon discover that Napoleon has designed a secret weapon, one that could subjugate the entire galaxy if they can’t discover a way to stop Fouché, and the entire French army, from completing their emperor’s mandate.

 

 

Chapter 1
An Unexpected Letter

Arabella Ashby sat at the writing-desk which had been her father’s, and was now her brother’s, staring out across the endless ranks of khoresh-trees which were her inheritance, her livelihood, and her legacy. And also, at the moment, her greatest vexation.

The wood of the khoresh-tree, known to the English as “Marswood,” was at once the strongest and the lightest in weight of any in the solar system. It was this wood which composed the aerial ships of the Honorable Mars Company, of His Majesty’s Royal Navy, and even of the defeated tyrant Napoleon’s Marine Aérienne. Arabella’s family had been tending and harvesting these trees for generations—nearly as long as the English presence on Mars itself—and from her earliest girlhood she had climbed them, sported among them, picnicked in their shade. Yet it was only in the past few months, ever since her tumultuous return to Mars from Earth, that she had learned just how tedious their upkeep could be.

At the moment it was tokoleth-grubs which required Arabella’s attention. The grubs had infested the southern acreage, and on the desk before her lay two offers to eradicate them—one from a Martian firm, whose tame predators were reliable but came at a grotesquely high price, the other from Englishmen, whose novel chemicals were cheaper but might damage the trees—but her thoughts would not remain focused upon them. Instead, her eye kept drifting to the Fort Augusta Courier nearby, which proclaimed in large type: ASTONISHING EVENTS. ~ BONAPARTE ESCAPES MOON. ~ GREAT OGRE FLEES TO VENUS. Though the news was months old and tens of thousands of miles distant, it occupied her mind exceedingly.

She was still attempting to redirect her concentration to the tokoleth-grubs when Martha, her lady’s maid, entered. “Letter for you, ma’am,” she said.

Arabella took the letter—exceedingly battered, with evidence of the seal having been broken and replaced—and her heart leapt as she recognized the hand in which it was written. It was that of Captain Prakash Singh—the commander of the Honorable Mars Company airship Diana, and Arabella’s long-absent fiancé.

My dearest Arabella, it began, and as she read, it were as though his voice, low and steady, tinged with the subtle accent of India, and always supremely confident, breathed in her ear.

I regret exceedingly that I must inform you that, just as we were preparing to round Venus’s horn after a reasonably profitable call at Fort Wellington, Diana was intercepted by Résolution, a French aerial man-of-war of sixteen guns, and were compelled by superior force of arms to return to the planet’s surface. The ship and all her cargo and fittings, regrettably including Aadim, have been impounded, and her officers and company are being held as prisoners of war.

I am told that no exchange of prisoners is currently anticipated, and we may be required to remain here until the war’s end, which I devoutly hope will not be long. My officers and I have given our parole, as a matter of course, and are currently at liberty in the fortress town of Thuguguruk; the men are imprisoned in the ancient chateau above the town. I am doing what I can to make them as comfortable as possible.

Although some of the other prisoners have sent for their wives, I must insist that you remain on Mars. Conditions here are far from pleasant; the local food is atrocious, and the climate entirely inhospitable. At any rate, as we are not yet married, it would be both unseemly and contrary to my captors’ regulations for you to join me here.

Letters are, unfortunately, not permitted prisoners. I am not without resources, however, and I have induced one of our Venusian gaolers to smuggle this missive to the nearest English settlement, from which I hope it will reach you without undue delay. I will attempt to write to you as often as I may.

Please know that you are ever in my thoughts.

Your most devoted

Captain Singh

Captain Singh was the most intelligent, the bravest, and the most honorable man Arabella had ever known. From the very moment she had met him—she had been in disguise as a boy at the time, and mere moments from signing on with the Royal Navy—he had treated her with the utmost decency and respect, and had saved her life on that occasion and many times since. She, in her turn, had lied to him—a necessary deception as to her sex, which had been the only way to obtain rapid passage from Earth to her birthplace on Mars—but had served faithfully as his captain’s boy. In those tumultuous months she had worked diligently at her duties, fought a battle with a French corsair, nursed the captain when he was sick, and even helped to break a mutiny before her deception had been revealed. But despite her duplicity, he had shared with her his personal history and the secrets of Aadim, his automaton navigator, and they had grown close. So close, in fact, that when her brother Michael, grievously injured, insisted that she marry immediately in order to insure the continuity of the estate in case of his death, the captain had been her first and only thought. The captain—and Aadim—had agreed, in what must surely be the strangest proposal in the history of romance.

But before the wedding could be performed, he had been called away to Venus on urgent Company business. His eagerly anticipated return, and the nuptials which would follow, had been delayed by months—months of silence from the captain, accompanied by increasingly distressing news of the monster Bonaparte’s resurgence. Her nineteenth birthday had come and gone without the slightest word from him. And now this letter had arrived.

The letter’s flimsy, crumpled paper trembled in Arabella’s hand as she read it over a second time and then a third, searching in vain for some particle of hope therein. Surely there must be some mistake! Surely he had already been released, and was even now making his way back to Mars! But no matter how hard she stared at her fiancé’s firm, even handwriting, no matter how tightly her fingers gripped the paper, no succor could be found.

Her husband-to-be was a prisoner of war.

This matter could not be allowed to stand.

Arabella was just rising from her seat when the door opened, admitting her brother Michael. Still wearing the large floppy hat and fur-lined leather coat which were his habitual garments when riding the plantation’s boundaries, he rushed to her as quickly as he could, his crutch thumping on the floor-boards. The wrappings on the stump of his leg, she noted automatically, were due for changing.

“I am informed,” he gasped as he clumped across the floor, “that you have received a letter from Venus.”

Wordlessly, she held out the letter, the expression on her face forestalling any further questions. He read quickly, then let his hand drop, the letter rattling against his thigh and his eyes filling with solicitude. “Oh, dear Arabella…”

“Do not be concerned for me,” she said, though her voice trembled. “So long as my captain is alive and healthy, I will be well.”

“You are very pale, Sister. Pray take a seat, and I will send for lureth-water.”

She sank back into her chair—realizing as she struck the seat how weak her knees had become—and watched numbly as Michael moved to the bell-pull in the corner. Lureth-water would help, she supposed, though what she truly craved at the moment was a full ration of good Navy grog. “If only those fools on the Moon,” she muttered, half to herself, “had managed to keep Bonaparte locked up.”

At the end of the War of the Sixth Coalition, Napoleon had been completely defeated, forced to abdicate and sent into exile on the far side of the Moon. But after less than a year of exile he had somehow managed to escape, decamping to Venus with a substantial contingent of soldiers and airmen. No one seemed quite certain why he had chosen that planet rather than returning in triumph to Paris, from which King Louis had already fled with an army at his heels, but there Napoleon was—he had already taken the Venusian continent of Gomoluk, and seemed quite intent on taking the entire planet.

Martha returned, with a pitcher and two glasses on a tray. Arabella sipped at hers without tasting. “I do not understand,” her brother said, “why the Company sent your fiancé to Venus at all, under these conditions!”

“Nor do I.” She drummed her fingers on the table, then rose and paced to the window. “But he assured me, before he left, that his assignment was of the utmost importance.” The khoresh-trees stretched to the horizon, rank on rank, like the tall masts of so many aerial clippers. They reminded her of the scene at the docks in London, where she had met her husband-to-be for the first time.

Arabella turned and strode toward the bell-pull. “I shall go into town, and importune the Company and the government to intercede on his behalf.” But before she could reach it, Michael stayed her with a touch on her arm.

“Pray do not disquiet yourself, Sister,” he said. “I am sure they are already doing all that they can.”

She paused momentarily, then continued to the corner and gave the embroidered ribbon a firm tug. “Perhaps. But if there is any thing which can be done to encourage them to further action, I intend to discover it and do it.”

His Excellency General the Honorable Sir Northcote Parkinson, Governor-General of the Presidency of Fort Augusta, proved to be a frail old man who affected an old-fashioned powdered wig. “My dear girl,” he said after the preliminaries had been discharged, “I am afraid that the situation is far more complicated than you imagine.”

Arabella sat rigidly on a stiff high-backed chair, wearing her best gown—finest Venusian silk, luminous white, trimmed in ribbons of pomona green—with gloved fingers knotted in her lap. Weeks of supplication, insistence, and pure unalloyed obstinacy… visit after visit to first Company House and then Government House… had finally obtained her an audience with the Governor-General himself, one of the most powerful men in the entire Honorable Mars Company, and His Majesty’s representative on Mars. She had not expected him to be so thin and stooped.

A drop of perspiration trickled down the back of Arabella’s neck, and she shifted in her chair. A robust fire roared in every fire-place of Government House, for the comfort of the English, but for her part she found the heat oppressive.

Lord Parkinson adjusted his pince-nez upon his nose. “You are aware, of course, that a state of war does not at this time exist between the governments of England and France.”

“Of course, Your Excellency. But as my fiancé is being held as a prisoner of war by the French…”

He silenced her with an upheld index finger. “Officially he, along with the other English subjects unfortunate enough to have been in Gomoluk when Napoleon captured the territory, are not prisoners of war but détenus, or hostages. Many of these are prominent landholders, Company factors, and other significant individuals. Even my own counterpart on Venus, Lord Castlemare the Governor-General of the Presidency of Gomoluk, is being held under house arrest. And their fortunes, their safety, indeed their very lives, are the subject of negotiations being held even now at the very highest level.” He removed his pince-nez, closed his eyes, and shook his head with weary resignation. “For the Company to intervene at this delicate moment, even indirectly, would be considered an act of war.”

“But Napoleon has already—!”

Again he silenced her, this time by patting the air between them. “I understand your perspective, but please do hear me out. It may appear to you that Napoleon has already initiated hostilities, by taking control of territory under Company jurisdiction. But it is important to understand the distinction between the Company and the Government.” He folded his hands primly upon the desk before him. “You were born and raised on Mars, I collect?”

Arabella seethed at the Governor’s condescension, but fought to keep her temper in check. Displays of strong emotion had already set her back several times in her long struggle to reach this point. “I was, Your Excellency.”

“Then all your life you have understood John Company to be the government, and the government to be the Company. We even wage war against the local satraps and principalities. But the Company rules Mars and Venus—portions of Venus, I should say—only as representative of His Majesty and His Majesty’s government back home. And only the king himself may declare war upon another sovereign power.”

“By which you mean France.”

“By which I mean France.”

“But Napoleon is not Emperor of France,” Arabella insisted. “He was deposed by the Sénat after the capture of Paris! Is mere escape from captivity sufficient to transform a criminal into an emperor?”

“Perhaps not. But the loyalty of his marshals, generals, and admirals… may very well be.” He spread his delicate white hands in a gesture of resignation. “As I have said, the situation is complicated.”

Arabella bit her lip, to prevent an unseemly comment from escaping. “But surely some diplomatic solution…”

“Please do rest assured that the Company is already doing every thing in its power to bring Diana and her company safely home.” His watery blue eyes above the pince-nez met hers levelly.

“Which you may not describe in more detail.”

“Regrettably.” But his face and voice betrayed no regret at all, only annoyance at her importunity.

At that moment an aide appeared and whispered rapidly into the Governor-General’s ear. Immediately the great man rose, saying “Unfortunately, my presence is required elsewhere.”

“I thank you, Your Excellency, for your kind attention.” Her tone, she thought, was sufficiently civil for propriety; she took what pride she could in that small accomplishment.

“Your servant, Miss,” he replied mechanically, but his eyes and thoughts were already directed elsewhere. He cleared his desk of papers, stuffing them hurriedly in a drawer, and then he and the aide departed, conferring urgently between themselves.

She remained in her chair for some time, breathing hard through her nose, lips tightly pursed… for she had not failed to note that, though the Governor-General had removed his private papers from the desk, he had not taken the time to lock it. Perhaps it had been due to the haste of his departure, or perhaps he had not thought of a young woman as any kind of threat—or, indeed, worthy of any consideration at all.

For a moment she hesitated. Then, glancing all about, she stepped to the other side of the desk and pulled open the drawer.

Most of the papers therein were meaningless or pedestrian. But one—a brief note, hastily scrawled, dated the previous Tuesday—struck Arabella like a thunderbolt. Talleyrand has recalled Savary to Paris, it said, for insufficient severity. His replacement, Fouché, departs Paris for Venus on Indomptable, sailing at the full moon.

In recent weeks she had studied the gazettes assiduously for any news of the war. Talleyrand, she had learned, was Napoleon’s chief diplomat, who had taken charge in Paris on Napoleon’s behalf after the departure of King Louis, and Savary was Napoleon’s minister of police—and, as such, the man responsible for the treatment of prisoners of war, including her husband-to-be. From all accounts he was a man of honor. But Fouché, known as “The Executioner of Lyon,” was an entirely different matter. During the Terror he had dispatched hundreds; his methods were brutal even by the standards of that horrific time. It was said that at Nantes he would take the poor unfortunate Royalists out on the river, tie them in pairs, male and female, and drown them together, calling this Le Marriage de Nantes.

Arabella had to bite her knuckle to prevent herself from crying out. Even so, a gasp escaped from her.

“What’s that?” came a voice from without, accompanied by the sound of footsteps.

Panicked, Arabella stuffed the paper back into the drawer and pushed it closed. Then she ran, half-blinded by tears, from the room and down the corridors, ignoring the concerns of those she passed. Once she achieved the cool air outside Government House she paused, gasping, hands on knees. The back of her fine dress was soaked with perspiration.

Fouché—the “Executioner of Lyon”—was to replace the honorable Savary as her captain’s gaoler. And he would be sailing for Venus within the month… might already have departed.

What might such a monster do to a prisoner accused of espionage?

A solicitous older couple soon approached her, asking what was the matter. She quickly straightened, doing what she could to put her face and dress in order, and explained that she had received some bad news but was in no need of further assistance. She curtseyed, not meeting the strangers’ eyes, then hurried down the steps, bound for the tea-house where Martha and Gowse awaited her.

But as she began to cross the street, the bells of the clock on the tower of Company House across the way drew her attention.

The Company House orrery clock was one of the greatest treasures of the town of Fort Augusta, and the clock tower had been among the first structures repaired following the end of the recent insurrection. The clock itself had only recently been put back into working order, and its precious metals and gemstones shone in the late-afternoon sun. The mechanism behind it, she knew from having once had the privilege of viewing it with her father, was still more impressive—the ingenuity of its brass and steel was far more valuable to her than any gold or platinum frippery.

As befitted Company House, the administrative headquarters of the Honorable Mars Company for the entire Martian territory of St. George’s Land, the clock told not only the time but the positions of the Company’s planets in their orbits, indicated by jeweled spheres which ran in tracks surrounding the clock face. From the center of the dial, a smiling Sun’s polished golden rays spread to touch the planets which danced attendance about him. Venus, the innermost planet displayed, glowed green with emeralds; next came Earth, sparkling blue and white with sapphires and diamonds; and finally Mars, the outermost, gleamed with the red of rubies and garnets. Beyond the planets, the symbols of the constellations were set into the stone wall in burnished brass.

As the last notes of the hour echoed into silence, Arabella noticed that green Venus and red Mars were in conjunction in Leo—both near five o’clock on the clock dial—while blue-and-white Earth orbited in splendid isolation in Capricorn, near ten o’clock.

The jeweled planets, she knew, were grossly exaggerated in size, and their orbital tracks were not entirely to scale. But the positions of the planets within their orbits were as accurate as clockwork could make them, and from her work in maintaining and running Aadim, Diana’s automaton navigator, she knew that could be very accurate indeed. And as the clock had been so recently set in motion, she was certain those positions would be correct.

If she raised one hand, fingers spread, she could span the distance from Mars to Venus with ease. But from Earth to Venus—the distance that must be traversed by the French vessel Indomptable bearing the executioner Fouché—was many times farther, and the need for the ship to avoid the Sun’s great heat made the voyage longer still.

She could beat him there. If she left immediately, she could arrive at Venus before Fouché.

What she would do when she arrived… she knew not. But she must make the attempt.

 


Chapter 2
No Time to Lose

The huresh-coach rattled along, Gowse driving the scuttling creatures forward with more than usual haste. One look at Arabella’s face had shown him her urgency, her need to leave town and return to Woodthrush Woods as quickly as possible.

Quite contrary to propriety, Arabella rode atop the coach next to her huresh-groom and former shipmate. The cool air whipping through her hair suited her desire for immediate action, and it served to revive her after the stifling warmth of Government House.

One of the team began to pull to the side—it was Nimrod, a scarlet-shelled buck with a strong will—but with a cluck of his tongue and a quick lash of the reins against Nimrod’s carapace, Gowse brought the beast back into line. For a human, born and raised on Earth, Gowse had a remarkable facility with huresh. “They’s no different from horses,” he liked to say, “apart from the eight legs and the looking like giant beetles.”

Gowse was a huge, burly airman with broad shoulders and the enormous calves typical of those who strain at the pedals to propel their craft across the airy spaces between the planets. His unlovely face was marred by a badly broken nose—an injury which Arabella herself had inflicted, in a fair fight, earning for herself Gowse’s respect and loyalty. So much so, in fact, that when Diana had departed for Venus he had chosen to remain on Mars and join the staff at Woodthrush Woods.

As they pulled through the plantation’s gate—which still bore the scars of the insurrectionists’ forked spears—Gowse slowed the team from its headlong pace so as not to startle any of the servants or animals. With the rush of wind and the rattle of wheels somewhat stilled, and the storm of difficult sentiments that had been clogging her throat somewhat abated, Arabella found herself able to converse.

“I have had some news about the captain,” she said after a long hesitation. “Though I must confess it did not reach my ears through any official channels.”

Gowse gave her a sidelong glance. “Not good news, I’ll warrant.”

She shook her head, unsurprised by Gowse’s comment—her sullen silence and downcast expression on boarding the coach would have made the character of her news quite clear—nor by his bluntness. “It seems that Napoleon’s chief gaoler on Venus is to be replaced, and his replacement is a man called Fouché.”

“The Executioner of Lyon?” Gowse’s expression darkened.

“You have heard of him?”

“Every airman’s heard of him, Miss Ashby. Master gunners frighten their powder-monkeys with tales of Fouché’s cruelty. When he was minister of police during the war, even cowards’d fight to the death rather’n be taken as prisoners under his tender mercies. Even Bonaparte’s afraid of him.”

Arabella felt her own mouth tightening to match Gowse’s sour expression. “Then there is no time to be lost.”

He quirked an eyebrow at her.

She leaned in close. “Venus and Mars are in conjunction. To reach Venus, Fouché’s ship will be forced to take the long route around the Sun, but the distance from Mars is much less. If I were to depart immediately, I could easily reach Venus before he does—as much as several months earlier. Time enough to devise some stratagem to free the captain from his imprisonment.”

The carriage pulled up in front of the manor house then, and the stable-boys came running out to unhitch the huresh. “Won’t be easy to find passage to Venus,” Gowse said as he assisted Arabella down from the carriage, “what with Napoleon and all. But I’ll ask around and see what’s in port.”

“Thank you, Gowse. I appreciate your assistance.”

“Nothin’ I wouldn’t do for an old shipmate,” he replied, and winked.

“Absolutely not!” Michael fumed, his eye fixed firmly on Arabella.

At this moment, she thought, her brother resembled their late father more strongly than ever before… but with an admixture of their mother’s intransigence. Yet she knew what she must do, and she would not be stayed from her course.

They were alone in Michael’s office. Father’s collection of automata still adorned the high shelf behind the desk, all tidily dusted and polished, but hardly ever wound—a fact which caused Arabella some pain. Michael had never participated in the passion for automata which she had shared with her father, and now that the office was her brother’s demesne those meticulously crafted devices stood motionless, nothing more than expensive knickknacks. The automaton dancer, in particular, whose mainspring Arabella had broken in an excess of zeal as a young girl, seemed to look down in silent rebuke.

Arabella knew just how valuable a properly designed and maintained automaton could be. If not for Aadim, Diana’s automaton navigator, she might not be alive to-day, and certainly would not be engaged to be married.

“I will not be dissuaded,” she replied, returning his stare evenly.

“In the first place, we are very nearly in a state of war with France. For all I know, war may already have been declared! For you to take ship at all under these circumstances, let alone to the disputed territory of Venus, is sheer folly!”

“The air is very large. On my last voyage, as you know, we were also at war, and Diana encountered only one French privateer, which we defeated.” It had been a very near thing, to be sure, but she saw no need to mention that.

“In the second place, you are needed here.” He gestured impatiently at the stub of his leg. “You know that I cannot survey the grounds and supervise the caretakers as I should.”

“But you are improving every day! Dr. Fellowes assures me that you should be sufficiently recovered to ride huresh-back in a month or less. Until then, Markath can be your eyes and ears on the grounds. I know that you trust him implicitly.”

“He is very good,” Michael acknowledged. “But he is only a Martian, and your particular skills—your rapport with the servants, your methodical care with the books, a thousand other things—are invaluable in the running of the estate.”

“You flatter me, dear brother, but you and I both know that Khema is ten times as valuable as I.” Khema had been Arabella and Michael’s itkhalya, or Martian nanny, when they had been children, and had taught them the ways of the desert and all things Martian. She had been instrumental in quelling the rebellion, and now served as the plantation’s majordomo. “Nothing whatsoever would be accomplished on this estate without her. In fact, during the rebellion, when she alone was responsible for the estate, every thing ran smoothly… despite the violence all around! I dare say that neither you nor I could have done as well.”

Michael pursed his lips, neither conceding her point nor offering any thing to gainsay it. “In the third place,” he said after a time, “even if I were so foolish as to allow you to travel to Venus, what could you possibly accomplish there? Surely the assistance of one young woman, even one so formidable as yourself, cannot make any difference against the massed might of Bonaparte’s forces.” He drew himself heavily from his chair and clumped across the floor with his crutch, then took her hand gently in his. “The captain is brave and very resourceful for a man of his race.”

Arabella glared at her brother. Although he had acceded to her betrothal to Captain Singh, he had never been completely comfortable with the captain’s color, accent, or religion. “For a man of any race.”

He acknowledged her correction by ducking his head and raising his hands, palms spread. “All the more reason for us to be certain that if any thing can be done to effect his release, he will do it. Nothing can be gained by you risking your life in such a foolhardy manner.”

Arabella straightened. “I have been reading the Naval Chronicle, in which are accounted the experiences of many English officers who escaped Napoleon’s European prisons during the recent land wars. Though many brave men managed to depart the prison itself through their own resources, most were recaptured before they reached neutral territory. Most of the successful escapes—those in which the escapees actually returned to England—were made possible only through the instrumentality of paid agents in the neighboring villages, on terms arranged by the fugitive’s friends at home.”

“I fail to see how this is relevant.”

“Let me put it to you plain: successful escape from Napoleon’s prisons requires help from outside—local guides, accommodations, forged papers, and, if necessary, even bribery. During the European wars, locals opposed to Napoleon were well known to the English, and payment and instructions for their services had only to be conveyed over the short distance from England to France. But in this case, our knowledge of the situation on Venus is extremely limited and the distance is very much greater. To obtain the equivalent assistance would require months and months—months Captain Singh does not have—and the chance that payment and instructions would be intercepted en route is very great. To ensure success I must voyage to Venus myself, and as soon as possible, in order to arrange and fund his escape from close at hand.”

“You have done your research,” he acknowledged grudgingly. “But I still cannot countenance such an adventure.”

“I am sorry,” she said, and cupped Michael’s hand in both her own, “my dearest brother, but this is a thing I must do.”

Michael drew his hand from hers and turned to the window, where rank on rank of khoresh-trees marched to the horizon. He stood in that contemplative pose for a long time before turning back to her. “You are a most vexing young woman, you know.” But his face bore a slight, whimsical smile.

“I know,” she replied, feeling her own mouth curve into a matching expression.

He blew out a breath. “As your brother, I could forbid you to go. But you and I both know that, even if I did so, you would do whatever you wish regardless. I suppose I have no choice but to accede to your request.”

She embraced him then, but her inward feelings bore no taste of triumph… rather, her sentiments combined concern for her captain, love for her brother, and anxious anticipation over events to come. “Thank you,” she breathed in his ear.

They held each other a moment longer; then he straightened awkwardly, nearly dropping his crutch in the process, and stumped to the desk. “You will require funds,” he said, seating himself and bringing out the ledger-book from its locked drawer. “I will instruct our banker to furnish you with a letter of note. Will five hundred pounds suffice, do you think?”

The astonishing figure made her breath catch in her throat, emphasizing as it did the gravity of the task before her. It was, she knew, a very substantial fraction of the plantation’s income, and equivalent to a year’s living—a very comfortable year’s living—for many a smaller landholder. Yet she knew from her readings that passage, paraphernalia, and influence—bribery, to be blunt—were all necessary for a successful escape, and could be extremely expensive. “I should hope that it would be,” she said at last. Then, considering, she added, “Be sure to instruct him to make certain that it is payable at Venus.”

He paused, tapping the pen upon his chin. “What currency do they employ there?”

“I…” She swallowed. “I do not know.”

They looked at each other for a long moment, both very much aware of how many unknown considerations stood between Arabella and her captain.

Then he took out a sheet of paper and began to write.

Excerpted from Arabella and the Battle of Venus, copyright © 2017 by David D. Levine.

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