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Arabella The Traitor of Mars

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Arabella The Traitor of Mars

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Author: David D. Levine
Publisher: Tor, 2018
Series: The Adventures of Arabella Ashby: Book 3

1. Arabella of Mars
2. Arabella and the Battle of Venus
3. Arabella The Traitor of Mars

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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Hail the conquering heroes!

The tyrant, Napoleon, has been defeated with Arabella and the crew of the Diana leading the final charge. But, victory has come at a tremendous cost. Britain's savior, Lord Nelson, has not survived the final battle and the good people of the Diana must now return to London as both heroes and pallbearers.

At last husband and wife, Arabella and Captain Singh seem to have earned the attention of great men, ones who have new uses in mind for the Mars Company captain and his young wife. Both Company and Crown have decided that it is time to bring Mars into the folds of Empire, and they think Singh is the perfect man to do it.

Now, Arabella must decide between staying loyal to the man she loves and the country of her father or betraying all that she has known to fight alongside the Martians in a hopeless resistance against the Galaxy's last remaining superpower.




Arabella descended the steps beside London Bridge in a great rush, Captains Singh and Fox and Lady Corey following behind at a more stately pace. Spread out below across the frozen river lay the Victory Jubilee, celebrating the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Venus. It was night, and the lights of the festival reflected dully from the ice below, echoing the stars which winked crisply in the black sky above. "Do be careful!" Captain Singh called.

"La, sir, you are far too cautious!" she called back, coquettishly.

"But we have not yet proved your foot upon ice!" Captain Singh had been born in India, and despite being widely traveled on Earth, Mars, and Venus and the interplanetary atmosphere between, had little experience of ice or snow. His formality, caution, and intellect were at once his most endearing and most annoying qualities.

Arabella herself had little more experience with ice than her husband -- her previous sojourn on Earth had not included any such phenomenon as this -- but so delighted was she at the prospect of the Jubilee that she refused to be deterred. "Pshaw!" she replied, laughing. "It has functioned perfectly thus far!"

Nonetheless, she checked her pace at the bottom of the stairs, stepping cautiously onto the scuffed translucent surface. The paths were laid with sand to provide steady footing, but so great was the pedestrian traffic that the sand was constantly swept aside. But her artificial foot's clockwork mechanism was performing as designed, mimicking the natural foot's spring on each step, and she found her footing to be entirely acceptable. Though she had confidence in the design that she and Captain Singh had worked out together after her injury in the closing moments of the Battle of Venus and constructed during the subsequent voyage to Earth, she was pleased that it functioned well in this unusual circumstance.

And a very unusual circumstance it was, as the Thames very rarely froze over and had not done so in nearly twenty years. The current exceptionally cold temperatures were due to the eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies, whose dust girdled the globe and blocked the rays of the life-giving Sun; the planet's veil of smoke had been plainly visible from above upon Arabella's recent approach to Earth. "We are quite fortunate," Lady Corey had declared, "that our ships of the air are able to observe and report upon this and other phenomena of the planetary atmosphere. If not, we would be shivering in the dark, with no idea how long the phenomenon will persist, and not even know the reason why!"

Taking her attention away from the ice, Arabella looked out across the Jubilee. The scene reminded her in some ways of the weekly market in Fort Augusta on Mars, with rows of stalls and shops and stands selling all manner of souvenirs, food, and drinks, whose smoke perfumed the chill air deliciously. It was also reminiscent of the Mars Docks not too many miles away, with huge follies of wood and paper and vast fabric pavilions taking the place of the Marsmen and other aerial ships there assembled. In terms of population it resembled the most crowded balls she had attended during her previous visit to England, but multiplied a thousand-fold and spread out across the ice between the bridges -- the babble of conversation, music, and the braying of animals was nearly deafening.

Her companions caught her up as she presented her ticket to one of the men who stood at the base of each stairway. These men, mostly watermen and lightermen unemployed by the freezing of the Thames, charged thruppence for admission to the ice and a penny to depart -- it was their only income until the river should clear, and Arabella had paid it gladly. Surely such a spectacle as this would never recur in her lifetime, and she intended to take in every aspect of it that she could.

"You were absolutely right!" she cried to Captain Fox as he joined her on the ice. "It is a marvel to behold!"

"I told you," he replied with a smirk. "In celebration of our great victory, the whole city is done up like a Port Charlotte whore." He turned to his wife. "Beg pardon." Lady Corey's glare in return combined long-suffering vexation with unfeigned, deep affection.

In truth, Arabella often wondered what the Foxes saw in each other. He was a self-centered, impulsive privateer captain, a man of great and sometimes uncontrollable appetites; she was a very proper and composed lady of excellent breeding, nearly ten years her husband's senior. Indeed, it was Lady Corey who had educated Arabella in the ways of a young woman of quality -- to the extent, Arabella herself was forced to admit, that such education was even possible. But both Foxes were charming, though in very different ways; both intelligent; both wealthy; both brave and decisive in a crisis. And it had been in a very great crisis, the escape from the Marieville prisoner-of-war camp and subsequent Battle of Venus, that the two of them had come together and, quite unexpectedly to all, fallen in love.

Having taken her bearings, Arabella spied her destination ahead on the right, and noted smoke and flames beginning to rise from it. "Hurry!" she called to her companions, rushing ahead. "The fireworks at the Castle of Discord are about to begin!"

The Castle of Discord was the center-piece of the fair, upon which all the lanes of shops and caravans converged like the spokes of a wheel, and a grand fireworks display was promised for the opening night of the Jubilee. Already a vast crowd had assembled on every side of it; their voices combined in an eager, anticipatory pandemonium, mingled with the music of hurdy-gurdies and the cries of vendors selling pastries and meat pies.

Arabella pushed through the thickening crowd until she reached a point where the view of the Castle was not too obscured by the hats and shoulders of those before her, then paused until her husband and the Foxes could catch her up. But as she was looking over her shoulder in search of them, a tremendous boom sounded. Startled, she turned to see what had caused it.

The Castle of Discord was an enormous structure, larger than a three-story house, built of wood and canvas and painted to resemble ancient, mossy stone. A grim and imposing edifice, it was surmounted by crenellations, behind which stood painted figures of mustachioed men in French Army uniforms with rifles, bayonets, and cannons. At the very top, a figure much larger than life, wearing a huge cocked hat worn athwartships, clearly represented Napoleon. And the boom which had drawn Arabella's attention had come from the launch of rockets all around the Castle, which burst in a fusillade of red and white fireworks in the air above to the general approbation of the crowd.

This first broadside of fireworks was answered by another fusillade from the Castle's upper reaches, this one in blue and gold, which drew in turn another, still larger response from the ground. Soon huge flowers and sheets of colored flame were clashing in the air above the Castle, matched by sprays of sparks and Catherine wheels mounted upon its painted-canvas ramparts. The windows of the Castle now illuminated, showing colored images and moving shadows representing major battles of the wars just concluded. The crowd roared its approval of each great gout of flame and crash of gunpowder; one man near Arabella cried out that it was "the very duplicate of a real cannonade!"

Despite her enjoyment of the spectacle, this comment gave Arabella pause. For it caused her to consider the great gulf between the harmless and beautiful display before her and the grim, deadly reality of an aerial battle -- the sound alone of which carried more destructive power than all the pretended violence of this entire performance -- and to realize just how different her experience of the war had been from that of the people around her, most of them Londoners born and bred who had never set foot on an aerial man-of-war or a battlefield.

On and on the fusillades continued, fireworks bursting, cannon booming, and smoke rising in a choking cloud. The crowd's enthusiasm rose, and the sound and fury of the pretended assault upon the Castle of Discord doubled and redoubled. So great, in fact, was the fire and smoke that the Castle itself became completely obscured ... and then, without warning, from the midst of this vast dark cloud sounded a mighty crash, greater than that which had gone before, accompanied by an abrupt cessation of the fireworks. The crowd stood stunned in the sudden darkness and silence, the fire and noise of the mock battle replaced by a few flickering flames and the occasional cough.

And then a cheer rose up from the front ranks of the spectators -- a cheer which heightened as it spread backward and further backward. The cheer crashed like a wave over Arabella's position as the smoke cleared, revealing that the Castle of Discord had completely vanished! The painted canvas walls had fallen away under cover of the smoke, revealing a grand edifice of white marble, enlightened with stained glass windows and surmounted with a gilded dome and lofty spires. Lights glimmered on within and without, revealing to all the majesty of the structure which must have stood hidden within the Castle all along.

"Behold!" came a voice as the cheering began to die down. "The Castle of Discord has been destroyed! Behold in its place ... the Temple of Concord!"

At this announcement the crowd began cheering and shouting in still greater earnest, ragged calls of "hip, hip, hurrah!" rising in competition from various parts of the vast icy plain upon which the new Temple stood, and echoing from the ice, the river banks, and the side of London Bridge close by.

Then, to Arabella's surprise, the happy crowd around her fell suddenly silent, staring behind her as though at some supernatural apparition. Furthermore, from that direction she could now hear a peculiar sound, which combined burbling, hissing, and clattering. She turned to the sound ... and beheld an amazing sight.

George Augustus Frederick, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, Regent of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was neither as handsome and slim as his official portrait, which she had seen in Government House in Fort Augusta, nor as grotesque as the caricatures in the gazettes. Yet, despite the peculiarity of the circumstances, she recognized him immediately -- and even if she had not, the deference of those about him made immediately clear that this was a personage of extreme importance.

He rode in a Merlin chair, with two large wheels behind and a single wheel in front, the latter being steered by a sort of tiller held by the occupant. This much was not unexpected -- as every one knew, the Prince suffered horribly from gout. But instead of an attendant pushing, behind the Prince there was an engine of some kind. She could not see it well from here, but by the sound -- which she now identified as boiling water and the hiss of steam -- it must be some sort of very compact steam engine. Cables ran from it to levers on the chair's sides, presumably allowing the Prince to control the chair's forward motion. She longed to inspect the mechanism.

As to the Prince himself, he was a very large man. His broad stomach was the first thing one noticed, matched by substantial legs and thick arms ... he must weigh seventeen stone or more. The whole was wrapped in an ornate military uniform: red coat dripping with gold braid, tight breeches, and a cocked hat as enormous as the painted Napoleon's. One foot wore a high Hessian boot polished to a mirror sheen; the other was swaddled in a huge soft bandage. The uniform's high collar tried and failed to conceal a fleshy double chin. Yet though his lower lip pouted out like some enormous child's, his eyes showed intelligence, humor, and even compassion.

"Mrs. Singh," said one of the Prince's companions, "may I present to you His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales?"

"Your Royal Highness," she said, dropping a trembling curtsey.

"Oh please, call me Prinny." He gestured her to rise. "Every one of any consequence does."

Arabella felt her jaw drop. She looked around at the encircling crowd, which mingled common people, soldiers, and -- those closest to the Prince -- men and women whose clothing marked them as people of very high quality indeed. They seemed as astonished as she. "I, sir? I am of no consequence whatsoever!"

The Prince pulled up on one of the levers beside his seat, causing the chair to propel itself toward her. He then brought it to a stop beside her, the engine hissing and clattering, and took up her hand. Stunned, she let him do so. "Au contraire, madam. You are, or so I am told, one of the chief architects of our victory over Napoleon. I have been intending for some little time to send a note of gratitude and congratulations to you, and of course your husband the dashing Captain Singh. But that fellow there" -- he gestured foppishly with his off hand to a gray-haired gentleman, oddly dressed, who stood with a female Negro companion -- "pointed you out to me here, and so I am able to extend my felicitations to you in person."

"I ... I am honored," Arabella managed. "But ... really I did only what was necessary. Any loyal subject would have done the same."

"Perhaps. But not any other loyal subject did." He kissed her hand, then released it; it fell limp to her side. "I would be delighted if you and your companions would join me in a drink." And without another word he wheeled his conveyance about and headed off, the engine puttering and spitting out steam and drops of hot water onto the ice.

Still trembling, Arabella found herself swept up in the Prince's coterie. Captain Singh supported her arm -- indeed, he practically kept her standing by main force -- as they traveled in a group across the ice, the murmuring crowd parting before the Prince's machine and rejoining behind his party like the turbulent air in the wake of a passing ship.

They made their way to a large illuminated pavilion, entering between liveried attendants who bowed deeply as they drew the door-cloth aside. The air within, redolent of wine and snuff, was far warmer than without; the hubbub of the crowd, contained by the fabric walls and roof, still louder; and the quality of the company much more elevated. "Prinny!" called one, and "You must try this sherry!" another.

Some one handed a glass -- fine crystal -- to Arabella, and she took it, the alternative seeming to be allowing it to smash upon the ice at her feet. It was extremely full, so she took a sip, finding it to be something of deep flavor and considerable strength. It was really very delicious, and she sipped at it to calm herself as the crowd swirled around her like the turbulent winds of the Horn. So numerous and animated were the company that she felt herself battered by the noise alone, let alone the elbows and shoulders which frequently bumped against her, yet she felt it would be impolite to depart.

Captain Singh, beside her, held a glass of his own, but she noted that he did not appear to have imbibed any of it. His demeanor, always reserved, seemed still more so now; he held himself straight and aloof, looking out at the assemblage from his considerable height as though from the cross-trees of his own mainmast. The assemblage, in turn, looked upon this tall, lean, very dark man in a Mars Company captain's buff jacket as though a Martian had suddenly stepped into the tent. Captain Fox, meanwhile, seemed to be in his element; along with Lady Corey he was already engaged in uproarious conversation.

"You do not seem to be enjoying yourself, madam."

Arabella looked down to the source of the voice, realizing that she had drifted away somewhere inside herself. It was the Prince, who held a glass of his own. "If you please, sir," she said, "I find myself quite discomfited by the noise of the crowd. The contrast with the still of the interplanetary atmosphere is quite ... quite discomfiting." She chided herself for repetition, and took another sip of her drink.

"Indeed." He drank deeply from his own glass, finishing it, then held it out negligently to one side. A silent attendant immediately appeared and refilled it, even as the Prince continued to converse. "Though this Jubilee is truly extraordinary -- the expense would be enough to make even my steward blanch -- the presence of so many of the common people is really quite tedious." He propelled his chair closer and leaned in, conspiratorially. "I plan a private victory celebration at my home in Brighton next week," he said, his glance taking in both Arabella and Captain Singh. "It would give me pleasure if you would join me."

Arabella, amazed and rather overwhelmed by the offer, looked to her husband for advice. His face remained impassive, though she thought she could detect some hesitation around the eyes. "If you wish, my dear," he said.

Copyright © 2018 by David D. Levine


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