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An ache in my scarred leg is the first warning of the storm to come. By the time I’m done hauling in the net with today’s catch, the clouds have clustered thick and dark enough to blot out the red orb of Nova Vita. Anxiety twinges in my gut, but I force myself to take my time securing the fish and equipment. No matter what Nibiran superstitions have been floating around lately, it’s likely nothing. There’s no use sabotaging myself over bad weather. Yet as I race toward home, hoverboat wobbling in the wind, I’m chased by the same thought that’s bubbled up again and again over the last couple of months.
Is this just a storm? Or a sign of something worse on the horizon?
Momma would have said that trouble always comes around eventually. General Altair would have told me to trust my instincts. Yet that caution wasn’t enough to save either of them.
My worry deepens as Kitaya comes into sight. The streets are empty. The algae farms have shut down for the day, protective covers laid out over the watery fields. Platforms have lifted the buildings higher above ground level, and metal shutters have spread out to cover the dome-shaped structures. The island is on full lockdown. Normal or not, this storm will be a bad one. As the rain begins to fall, soft droplets swiftly accelerate into a heavy patter. With Lyre studying engineering at the university and the twins rarely reliable, I can only hope Scorpia is home to begin storm procedures on the houseboat, but I doubt it.
Despite my hurry to return to my family, I slow the hoverboat as I swing past the harbor, surprised to see two figures standing out on the docks. They’re both wearing the simple, waterproof outfits of fisherfolk, but no fisherfolk would be lingering out here with a growing storm. One is crouched with his hands over his ears, and the other is gesturing wildly, though whatever she’s shouting is swallowed by the wind.
“There’s a storm lockdown,” I call out to them, bringing my boat up alongside the pier. “You need to get out of here.”
The woman turns to me. She braces her shoulders as if expecting hostility, her eyes wary in her brown face.
“We have nowhere to go,” she says. She extends one hand in a half-realized gesture, and then yanks it back as if burned. “We’re from… we live on Vil Hava.”
I frown, trying to make sense of how two fisherfolk ended up stranded so far from home. A moment later, the hand gesture she was beginning to make clicks in my head. Once I know to look for them, it’s easy to notice her stiff posture and the smooth skin at odds with her rough-spun clothing. I glance at the woman’s wrist and find the telltale glow of a tattoo; then at the man, who is still covering his ears, unresponsive. The empty boat docked nearby completes the picture. They’re Gaians. They must have wandered out this way from the refugee housing on Vil Hava to try their hand at fishing and panicked when the storm hit. They, like me, can’t have missed the similarity to the deadly weather events that played a part in their planet’s destruction. Drones have reported back that the situation has only grown worse there since the Gaians evacuated, and they have less than a month left until the deadline on their stay here.
Nibiru and Gaia have always had a fraught relationship, between their clashing views on the Primus aliens who first settled in this system, and the Nibiran-originated plague that swept through Gaia fifty years ago. The entire system was shocked when the Nibiran Council granted the Gaians a temporary stay on this planet. Of course, that was without my family giving the council the full truth of what had happened on Gaia, including the fact that it was President Leonis’s use of alien technology that seems to have led to the planet’s strange decline, and that she tried to hire my family to kill this planet’s population so that her own people could move here permanently. We lied so that the Gaians wouldn’t die for their leader’s arrogance.
And it worked, to an extent. Leonis went to prison for wiping out the Titans, and we evaded the same fate despite our own involvement in that plot. And the Gaians have been safe here, for a time. But the Nibirans have always been superstitious, and certain parts of the population have been eager to claim that the Gaians must have brought this upon themselves somehow with their love for the Primus. They’re not far off the mark—but still, most Gaians knew nothing of their president’s scheme, and they don’t deserve to suffer for it.
“There’s a public storm shelter a few blocks in,” I say, jerking my chin in that direction. “You can wait out the storm there.”
“Are you sure they’ll let us in?” the woman asks. “After the storm’s already begun?”
Judging by how defensive she became when I first approached, I doubt that’s the only reason she suspects they won’t let her in. For the most part, Nibirans have been welcoming to the refugees—especially on Vil Hava, the planet’s heart, where these two are from. But Kitaya is smaller, more isolated. And it’s no secret that the circles of resentment have been growing lately, especially with the harsh weather riling up Nibiran superstition.
The hoverboat rocks beneath me, pummeled by the wind and rain. I should get home to my family, make sure the boat is docked and my siblings are home safe. I could take these Gaians there… but no. We have far too many secrets to invite strangers in. After a moment, I ease the boat into one of the dock’s ports until I hear a click, shut it down, and step out. Once I press my thumb to the screen on the station, it locks there. “I’ll walk you to the shelter,” I say, and crouch down to extend a hand to the shaking man. “It’s not safe here.”
Once the Gaians are safely in the public shelter, I wave off the invitation to join them and make my way home on foot. The hoverboat will stay locked into the dock, assuming it survives the storm. I doubt I could steer it straight right now, with the winds throwing themselves against the island as though they mean to flatten it. And it’s more important to take care of my family.
My family, who hasn’t even closed the storm shutters yet. Our houseboat rocks wildly on the choppy waves, jerking at the end of the tether that secures it to the island, its windows fully exposed to the elements. I’m about to rush inside when I spot a familiar figure on the edge of the deck.
“Pol?” I slow as I approach. “What are you doing out here?”
He turns to me, one foot slipping in a way that makes my heart jump in fear. It’s nearly impossible to save a man from drowning when the ocean’s this rough, especially given his size. My little brother is thin after the Primus bio-weapon ravaged his body on Titan, but he still has a few inches on me in height.
He’s also currently sporting a black eye, which at least partially answers my question, despite his silence.
“You and Drom get into another fight?” I ask, gently. He shrugs, mumbling something, and I step forward to touch his arm. “Let’s talk about it inside, this storm is getting worse.”
“Don’t fuckin’ baby me,” he says, yanking away from me, but he stomps inside anyway.
The floor rolls with the unsettled ocean, and wind rattles the windows. Lyre is in the kitchen, standing on the tips of her toes and struggling to close a still-open window leaking rain into the house. I rush over to help her shut it.
“Why wasn’t this done twenty minutes ago?” I ask, grimacing at the puddle of water on the floor. Lyre is soaked through and shivering, her curls flattened against her skull.
“I just got home from class,” she says. “And Drom is looking for—” She cuts off as she sees Pol coming in behind me. “Oh, thank the stars.” She raises her voice. “Drom, he’s here!”
A few moments later, Pol’s twin comes bounding up the stairs and slides to a stop in front of him.
“Damn it, Pol, I told you it was an accident…” She stops mid-complaint to catch her breath, and then bursts out, “Where the hell were you?”
He walks into the living room without a response. Drom follows him, looking frazzled.
“We need to lock down,” I say, turning to Lyre.
She nods, her face troubled. “Scorpia isn’t here yet.”
I sigh. Of course she isn’t. “Where is she? Visiting Orion again?” I ask, but Lyre only shakes her head, so I head out into the living room.
Pol is sprawled across the couch, staring up at the ceiling, his head lolling off the side and one leg up on the cushions in a way that looks distinctly uncomfortable. Drom sits at the opposite end of the couch, stewing silently.
“Do either of you know where Scorpia is?”
“Working,” both twins answer at once, and then glower at one another as if offended at being copied.
“Doing what?” I ask, surprised that they both seem to know something I don’t. Before either of them can answer, the door bangs open behind us. Scorpia stumbles in, dripping water.
“Where were you?” I ask.
“Wow, gee, thanks for the welcome home.” Scorpia kicks off her wet boots. She flops over the back side of the couch, drawing a groan out of Pol as she falls right on top of him. “Sorry to disappoint you all with my presence!” She rubs her wet face on him while he grimaces and tries to push her off. After a few moments, he finally succeeds at dumping her onto the floor. She seems content to remain there.
I scrutinize her from across the room. It’s obvious she doesn’t plan on answering my question, but she doesn’t look drunk, so I suppose I should be happy with that. I move to lock the door behind her, biting my tongue to hold back any scolding. At least she’s here. We’re all here, and we’re all safe, and that’s what’s important.
After double-checking that everything is secure, I make my way to the couch as well. Pol stares up at the ceiling, his eyes wide. Drom feigns a yawn, as if she couldn’t care less about the winds howling outside, but she scoots over to sit next to her twin, and he doesn’t complain.
I take a seat on the opposite side of the couch, and Scorpia drags herself up from the floor and plops down beside me. She leans her shoulder against mine and gives me a tight-lipped smile. After another moment, Lyre squeezes her small frame into the tiny space left in the middle. My hip wedges hard against the side of the couch, irritating my leg. The couch is definitely not built to hold this many people, but nobody says a word about it. Around us, the houseboat lurches and shudders, fighting against the storm and the waves. I imagine us breaking loose from the island, floating alone in the middle of the vast ocean, sinking down to sit far beneath the waves.
“If you could go anywhere in the system right now, where would it be?” Scorpia asks, breaking the silence.
“Deva,” both twins say simultaneously, and then grin at each other, their earlier irritation with one another apparently already fading. They don’t look as strikingly similar as they used to, not when Pol is still a hollowed-out version of his old self, his skin pale and his eyes shadowed, but that smile is still the same.
“For the food,” Pol says.
“For the parties,” Drom counters.
“I would have to pick Deva as well,” Lyre says, after giving it considerably more thought than our youngest siblings, though her birth-planet must be the obvious option. “It’s not much of a choice, really, when it’s that or Pax.” She frowns down at her lap. “The system is a lot smaller than it used to be.”
“I guess you’re right,” Scorpia says. “I would choose Pax, though.” I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised she would choose the only option that’s illegal for our family, since it’s the one place none of us were born. Still, I find it hard to believe that anyone would choose to go to that radiated desert. Catching my expression, Scorpia laughs and says, “What? It could be fun. Sounds like an adventure to me.”
“I think I’ve had more than enough adventures for this lifetime,” I say.
“Well, I haven’t,” Scorpia says. “I wanna go somewhere I’ve never been before. See something new. Be in a place where no one knows my name.” She smiles, but it fades quickly as she lapses into an uncharacteristic silence. I study her face, about to ask her what’s wrong, but she speaks up again just in time to interrupt the question. “What about you?”
“I don’t know,” I lie, while my mind goes right to Titan. I think of roaming the empty planet, the graveyard of my people. I think of kneeling in the snow and asking for their forgiveness for leaving them. For surviving them. I shake it off. It’s a pointless, maudlin thought, and not the type of answer my siblings want to hear. None of them will understand, anyway. Each of us has our own birth-planet—Scorpia aside—but theirs have never been any kind of home to them. None of them have spent years trapped on the surface alone, like I did on Titan during the war. None of them have bled or killed for their planets. None of them have watched them fall apart in front of them. “Staying here wouldn’t be so terrible,” I say instead.
I’m surprised to realize that I mean it. After the tumult a few months ago, and the war before, this time on Nibiru has been a relief. Here, we can be safe. Accepted. We even have the approval of the council, which grants us more security than we’ve ever had before. We’re no longer juggling dangerous jobs, and I no longer have to lead a life revolving around violence. In a place like this, we could build something for ourselves—something different than the lives Momma forced upon us from birth, and the roles that almost destroyed us. Given time, I believe even Scorpia could find happiness here, if she let herself. And I can let the past drift away, no longer forced to be a soldier or a criminal or anything more than… well. I’m not sure yet what I want to become, but for now, I’m content to have my family around me.
Moments after the words leave my mouth, thunder rumbles loudly enough to shake the entire room. The lights flicker, and Lyre lets out a nervous squeak, pressing farther down into the couch.
“You were saying?” Scorpia asks. Even she sounds strained, one hand gripping my arm.
“It’ll pass,” I say. She releases my arm and lets out a shaky breath. It reminds me just how much she hates feeling trapped in here. I put an arm around her shoulders and squeeze. “We’re going to be fine.”
We huddle together as the world rages outside.
Hours later, after the storm has receded and all of us have drifted off to our separate rooms, I toss and turn in my bed. The drumming of rain against the roof turns into distant gunfire; the wind once again howls like an angry god; and I am back on Titan. Back in the war, with a gun in my hands and my team at my back.
For a moment, it feels right. It feels almost peaceful. I’m back where I belong. But I sense the moment when it starts to change. The world distorts around me, the dream turning to a nightmare.
“Corvus?” Daniil says, and I turn to face him. “Don’t leave me here,” he whispers. I reach for him, but he dissolves into ash, and drifts away on the wind. Sverre is next, taking one lurching step toward me before he, too, falls, his accusing eyes never leaving me.
“Magda,” I say. I look for her and am relieved to find her still there. Smiling, even. She steps forward, touching my face in a way I never let her touch me in reality, and leans forward to press her lips against mine. As she pulls back, black begins to ooze out from between her teeth and drip down her chin.
“Traitor,” she says in a gurgling voice, a mouthful of black spilling out with the word, and then she takes out a knife and thrusts it toward my chest—
I wake up with a start, and lash out. Only after my fist connects with warm flesh do I jolt back into consciousness, slowly grounding myself in reality. I’m not on Titan. I’m not in the war. I’m on Nibiru, at home, in bed—and it’s my sister sitting on the edge of my mattress, one hand holding her jaw and the other extended to hold me back.
“Oof,” Scorpia mutters under her breath. “Ow.”
Guilt crashes over me. “Oh, fuck. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean— You know I would never—” I stop, unable to finish the thought. I would never… But I did. I might not have meant to, but I did.
She drops her defensive hand, works her jaw experimentally, and mutters, “S’fine.”
“No, it’s not.” I want to reach out to her, but the sudden fear she’d push me away is too much to bear, so I sit back instead, clenching my hands in my lap. She gingerly presses her fingers to her cheek and jaw, testing the damage, before letting both hands drop to her sides.
“No harm done,” she says, forcibly breezy. “Hey, at least you don’t sleep with that knife under your pillow anymore, or this could’ve been a lot worse.” She mimes stabbing herself in the neck, sticking her tongue out of one side of her mouth and rolling her eyes back.
“That’s not something to joke about.” I press my palms into my eyes, trying to ward off the burning behind them. “I told you not to startle me like that. You shouldn’t have come in here.”
“Yeah, well, you were crying out in your sleep again, and I wasn’t gonna just sit on the other side of the wall and listen to it.”
“You should have done exactly that,” I snap, my voice coming out harsher than I intend. After a moment, Scorpia touches my arm and gently draws it away from my face. She studies my wet eyes, sighs, and pulls me toward her. I let myself rest my head on her shoulder, even though it makes my self-loathing spread like a stain across my mind. I’m pathetic. I know it. We both know it. “I’m sorry,” I say again—this time both for hitting her and for forcing her to comfort me afterward, even though it should be the opposite. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I was ever the one holding this family together. Now I can’t even manage the problems in my own head.
“Hush,” Scorpia says, resting one hand on my back. “You’re fine. It’s fine. It’s over. Your brain just… hasn’t caught up yet. But it will.”
I wish I could believe her. These months have been peaceful. I thought that peace would be enough to keep the worst of my demons at bay—to chase away the nightmares, the parade of faces haunting me, the constant, scratching fear that something terrible is about to happen. I was wrong.
It’s not always there. Sometimes I go hours, even days, without the past clawing its way up from the dark hole I’ve tried to hide it in. But then a child’s firecracker will make me flinch and reach for a gun that isn’t there, or I’ll think I see a familiar face in a crowded restaurant and fight for the exit before I know what I’m doing. The world may be peaceful, but my mind is still at war. And I’m not sure whether it’s my past or my common sense telling me that this peace can never last.
It’s a frightening thought. Not for me—I’ve already begun to accept that there will never be true peace for someone like me—but for the innocent people of Nibiru and Gaia. For my siblings, who have been through enough already, and yet still haven’t seen how horrible the world can be. I hope they never do, but I can’t fight the feeling that they will. That they all will.
I can’t fight the fear deep in my gut that tells me the worst is yet to come.
The Hero of Nibiru
When the morning comes, the sea is calm. Lyre and I run around opening the storm shutters while Corvus prepares breakfast. The tightness in my chest loosens at the sight of sea and sky and sun breaking through the clouds. It’s still not the freedom of open space, but it’s something.
Breakfast is simple Nibiran fare, thin slices of fish wrapped in strips of chewy, fresh algae. Most of us prefer it raw, but Lyre insists that hers be thoroughly cooked, and cuts it into small pieces before eating. The twins fight over the last drops of the last bottle of imported Devan hot sauce. Drom knocks over Lyre’s coffee with one elbow, and she lets out a yelp as it splatters across her robe.
“Stars, not at the table,” Lyre says, dabbing at her outfit with a napkin. “Scorpia—”
“Split it, assholes, or I’m not buying any more for you,” I say, sipping my own coffee. “Seriously, please, give me an excuse. You know how expensive anything imported is getting?”
They grudgingly obey, and I finish my coffee before starting in on my own food. I’m getting real sick of fish and algae, but at least we’re saving money, so I keep my mouth shut. Across the table, Corvus picks at his own food and tea, his eyes distant.
I can tell from the especially broody look on his face that he’s still thinking about last night. I am too—hard not to when my face aches from it, though I think I did a decent enough job of covering up the bruise with makeup. If I’m lucky—
“Scorpia, what happened to your face?” Lyre asks.
But of course, nothing gets past Lyre. I swallow a sigh and slap on a smile instead. “Oh, this?” I reach up to touch my jaw, trying my hardest to avoid glancing at Corvus, though I can feel his eyes on me. “Well, uh, kind of embarrassing, actually.” I rush to get the words out before he can speak up and ruin it, even though I’m not sure where I’m going with this yet. “I got up in the middle of the night to go take a piss, was too lazy to turn any of the lights on, and then… bam! Walked straight into the doorway.” I lower my hand and push out an uncomfortable chuckle.
A moment of silence passes. Corvus and Lyre are still staring at me—him stricken, her verging on suspicious.
“You’re an idiot,” Drom says through a mouthful of fish, not even looking up from her plate. “Hear that, Pol? Someone nabbed your title of family idiot.”
“Aw, shut up,” he says, and shoves her arm, sending her next bite of food to the floor. As they erupt into squabbling again, I return to my food, glad that the spotlight seems to have left me.
Once the twins settle down, the morning returns to its calm quiet. It’s rare to have a morning with all of us home together, and usually when we are, breakfast quickly dissolves into pure chaos. Typically Lyre is in a rush to go to school, or the twins are throwing punches instead of food, or Corvus is trying to implement some new household rule that will never stick. But not today. Today is the quiet after the storm, and I force myself to slow my eating and enjoy it.
“Remember how much Momma always hated raw fish?” Pol asks, and that peaceful quiet abruptly turns to a stony silence. I pause chewing my oversized bite of fish, as if afraid even that will be too loud in the suddenly silent room. Pol smiles down at his almost-empty plate, his expression wistful, completely oblivious to the way the rest of us have frozen mid-motion. “No matter how many times we came here, she always insisted we cook it first. Said it wasn’t right.”
I exchange a glance with Corvus, while Lyre stares down at her plate with a queasy expression, and Drom looks like she’s barely restraining herself from forcibly making Pol shut his mouth. I swallow, and the mouthful feels dry and heavy as it slides down my throat.
“Yeah, I remember,” I say, as Corvus shoots me a warning look. “She smacked it out of my mouth the first time she caught me eating it raw. You remember that?”
Pol’s face reddens. “Maybe she was trying to protect you.”
“Yeah, and maybe she was just being a bitch.”
“Scorpia,” Corvus says, “there’s no need to be crass.”
I roll my eyes, stuff the last bite of food into my mouth, and get up. “Whatever,” I mumble through my half-chewed mouthful, and head for the door.
“You really sour everything, you know that?” Pol snaps at me as I walk by.
“Better than sugarcoating it.”
“That’s enough,” Corvus says, even more sternly, which I didn’t think was possible given his normal level of sternness. “This is not a subject for the breakfast table.”
“Apparently it’s not a subject for anytime,” Pol says. He glares up at me. “Apparently all of you would rather just forget she ever fucking existed. You do realize she died months ago, right? Not a decade. Not even a year. Just a few months, and nobody wants to even mention her name.”
Lyre and Drom are both staring down at their plates and clearly not intending to get involved, while Corvus looks accusingly at me, as if saying fix this with his disapproval. But what the hell does he expect me to do? I’m not going to sit here and listen to Pol talk about her like she was some wonderful part of our lives. Maybe she showed flashes of kindness to the rest of them, but never to me, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.
“If the alternative is pretending she was someone she wasn’t, then yeah, I’m perfectly happy to pretend she never existed in the first place,” I say. “We’re all better off without her, and that’s the truth.”
I was expecting Pol to explode at that, to keep arguing with me and let me pour out more of my frustration, but instead his dejected look makes shame burn in my chest. I swallow the rest of my words and shake my head.
“I’m going out,” I say, avoiding meeting anyone’s eyes. “Later.”
Despite my words, Corvus follows me to the door. When I move to open it, he juts an arm out to stop me.
“He doesn’t mean it,” he says, glancing over his shoulder to make sure none of our other siblings overhear. “You know he doesn’t really remember parts of it, and it’s more fresh for him, so he’s—”
“I know, I know.” I bite the inside of my cheek, trying to stifle my frustration. “It’s just hard to listen to.”
“I understand.” He lowers his arm, but before I can move, he asks, “Where are you going in such a rush?”
“I’m meeting Eri and Halon at the landing zone.”
“Again? I didn’t know they had access to Nibiru, and now they’ve been here twice in a month?”
“Well… I might’ve told customs they work for me. So, now they do have access.”
His expression shifts from confusion to concern. “Scorpia…”
- "This satisfying sequel has more of what made Fortuna (2019) such an excellent read: emotional weight, thrilling action, empathetic characters, and a complex plot that raises the stakes both for the five-planet system and the Kaiser family."—Booklist
- "Kristyn Merbeth has created a desperate, gritty world in her newest book Fortuna, an epic space opera about the lengths a family will go to survive not only each other, but a world out to kill them . . . . Merbeth is a voice to watch in space opera!"—K. B. Wagers, author of There Before the Chaos, on Fortuna
- "The narrative is powered by a cast of deeply developed characters. Scorpia, in particular, is impressively multidimensional . . . . The nonstop action and varying levels of tension make this an unarguable page-turner."—Kirkus on Fortuna
- "Merbeth's multiple narrators and plotlines converge beautifully into a suspenseful tale of family. The characters are distinct and grounded, and each interaction is filled with purpose and emotion that brings all of them, regardless of differences, into the fray together. SF fans who have been waiting for a crime family spin on space opera will find nothing but joy in this whirlwind story."—Publishers Weekly on Fortuna
- "High energy, high stakes, and lots of high notes."—Library Journal on Fortuna
- "Merbeth's world building is fascinating-five human-settled planets, each distinct and littered with alien technology-but her multifaceted characters and their troubled relationships give this action-packed family drama its heart. A good readalike for Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan books, John Scalzi's Collapsing Empire (2017), and for those who want a grittier version of Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series."—Booklist on Fortuna
- "This is an engaging start to a series that blends crime family drama with the sort of character-focused sci-fi that made Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series an award-winning favorite."—B&N Reads on Fortuna
- On Sale
- Dec 8, 2020
- Page Count
- 464 pages