Skip to main content
Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

The Will to Battle

Book 3 of Terra Ignota

Terra Ignota (Volume 3)

Ada Palmer

Tor Books



We the Alphabet

Written July 6, 2454

At Alexandria

Hubris it is, reader, to call one’s self the most anything in history: the most powerful, the most mistreated, the most alone. Experience, and the Greek blood within my veins, teach me to fear hubris above all sins, yet, as I introduce myself again here, I cannot help but describe myself as the most undeservedly blessed man who ever lived. I, who once moved act by act through the catalogue of sins, I, cannibal, torturer, traitor, parricide, who at seventeen gave myself over to deserved execution, I, Mycroft Canner find myself at thirty-one alive, healthy, with far more liberty than I deserve, making full use of my skills in the service of not one, but several worthy masters, and even permitted to sleep at night in the arms of he whose embrace will always be the one place in this universe where I most belong, while he too lies in his proper place, on the floor outside his mistress’s bedchamber.

War has not yet come, but the waters have withdrawn to form the tidal wave, leaving the beaches and their secrets bare. Hobbes tells us that war consists not in Battle only, but in that tract of time wherein the Will to Battle is so manifest that, scenting bloodlust in his fellows and himself, Man can no longer trust civilization’s pledge to keep the peace. If so, we are at war. We have been these four months, since Ockham’s arrest and Sniper’s bullet revealed too much truth for trust to stay. But we do not know how to turn the Will to Battle into Battle. We have enjoyed three hundred years of peace, World Peace, real peace, whatever the detractors say. This generation has never met a man who met a man who marched onto a battlefield. Governments have no armies anymore, no arms. A man may kill another with a gun, a sword, a sharpened stone, but the human race no longer remembers how to turn a child of eighteen into a soldier, organize riot into battle lines, or dehumanize an enemy enough to make the killing bearable.

We will learn fast. Man is still a violent beast; I proved that thirteen years ago when the swathe of atrocities I scarred across the public consciousness stirred the world to scream in one voice for my blood. We will make war, but no one wants to light the first match when we do not know how fast the fuel may burn. Three hundred years ago humanity had weapons enough to exterminate ourselves a hundred times over. Now the technology that birthed those weapons is so outdated that children who split the atom for a science fair are labeled antiquarians. We have no newer weapons, but no one doubts that, with a month’s cunning, the technologies that cook our food and slow our aging will birth horrors beyond imagining. If we survive, the wreckage of posterity will want to know how. It is for curious posterity, then, that I am now commanded to keep this chronicle.

I have done this work before. A week ago my masters presented to the world my little history of those Days of Transformation, now four months past, which left us on war’s threshold. They tell me that the history has done what they had hoped: shared much of the truth, without pushing us farther toward the brink. My great merit as an historian is that I am known to be insane. No court or council can trust my testimony, and each reader may pick and choose what to believe, dismissing anything too unsettling as lunacy. I gave the public what it wanted of the truth, no more, leaving the pundits and propagandists free to shape opinion into faction, and faction into sides and enemies.

This chronicle is different. My first history was written to be shared and used, now, by my masters. This chronicle cannot be shared, not while these secrets are still War Secrets. The powers that bid me record their doings week by week will not even let each other read the transcript. I alone enjoy this strange trust from the many leaders of what will soon be warring states. I hear the inner whispers of palace and boudoir, whispers which will shape armies, yet which history will never hear unless someone records them. It is this human underbelly of the war my masters bid me chronicle, not for the public, nor even for themselves, but so a record will survive, and with it some apology, as Plato’s apology preserves lost Socrates. We will lose them all in this, I fear: the wise and iron Emperor, patriot Sniper, subtle Madame. We have already lost the best. There lies my chief regret, reader. Since you cannot trust a madman’s word, I cannot persuade you of the one fact which is true comfort to me, even as I grieve. He was real: Bridger. There was a boy who walked this Earth who was a miracle. I held him in my arms. The Divine Light within his touch brought toys to life, made feasts of mud pies, raised the dead, and through him the God Who Conceived This Universe, Who usually sits back invisible, revealed Himself. I wish you could believe me. There is Providence, reader, an inscrutable but intelligent Will which marched us with purpose from the primeval oceans to these battle lines. That is how I know you will be alive to read this. He Who put such effort into mankind will not let us end here. No, I lie. I do not know with certainty that He still needs us. Those fatalists, who have long preached that all things, from the insect’s flutter to these words you read, are fated, determined, written up yonder in the Great Scroll, never considered that that Scroll might have an Addressee. There are two Gods, reader, at least, He Who Conceived This Universe, and He Who Visits from Another, just as Infinite and just as Real. We humans are the letters of a message our Creator wrote to make first contact with His Divine Peer. Now that the letter has been received, it may be crumpled and discarded, or set aside as keepsake in a coffin-stale drawer. We the alphabet may pray only that Their new friendship will continue to rely on words. If so, we will survive.


Human Dignity

Written July 7–8, 2454

Events of April 8

Almoloya de Juáres

“I, Vivien Ancelet, hereby undertake upon my human dignity that I will execute with faith and vigor the office of President of the Humanist Hive.”

Imagine hearing these words, not in the flesh, not in Buenos Aires, where you strain on tiptoe to glimpse the podium over the ocean of excited heads, nor even on live video, the new president’s bold image electric in your lenses. Instead you see him on a crass screen, barely a hand’s span square and pixelated by technology’s incompetence, replayed from a recording, so you do not share this moment with your billion brethren, but receive it only as tardy proof that the world outside these prison walls sails on without you.

“I swear to obey and preserve the Constitution and the Laws of the Humanist Hive,” the oath continues, “to sustain the Hive’s integrity and independence, and to promote all that will advance it and oppose all that may harm it. I will foster the Pursuit of Excellence of all Humanists, safeguard their rights and freedoms, and safeguard too the Olympic Games, the Olympic Spirit, and all who carry it. To these ends I will employ all the means…”—the new president’s voice wavers here, since he—like you, reader—has only recently discovered that “all the means” of the Humanist Hive has so long meant O.S.—“… all the means which the current Constitution of the Humanists places at my disposal, and when the disposition of the vote changes that Constitution, I will serve its new form with equal vigor. I will faithfully discharge these duties without bias or regard to any previous or current personal affiliation with any other Hive, strat, team, or other institution. I further swear to support the principles and reforms of Thomas Carlyle, and to maintain the Carlyle Compromise and all other treaties that continue to serve and safeguard Humanist welfare. I swear to preserve in secret the knowledge granted by my office which must be kept … kept secret.” He almost didn’t stumble. “Should I at any time break this oath of office, or in any way betray the Members’ trust, I shall submit myself to punishment by the laws of the Hive. This is my solemn oath.

“I wish to add,” Vivien Ancelet’s voice sounds suddenly more human here, a man’s words, not a recitation, “separate from this formal oath of office, my own personal pledge to my now-fellow Humanists that my past offices, and the allegiances associated with them, will not interfere with my exercise of this one. I am no longer Hiveless. I am no longer Censor. I am no longer an officer of Romanova. I am sincere in my pledge to uphold Humanist interests, even above those of the Carlyle Compromise and the Universal Free Alliance if need be. I am also no longer the Anonymous. My commentary will, from this point on, always be biased in favor and service of the Hive that I have joined. I am a Humanist, and speak as one—although not yet in Spanish,” he added with a sheepish tone, “for which I apologize, but it is better, I think, for the whole world to hear and understand this, not just our Members. There is a new Censor now, and a new Anonymous, and both are worthy of those offices. I trust them completely to fulfill their duties as well as I or anyone could. I hope you will trust them too, as much as you trusted me, before I was called to give up those offices for this one.”

The screen went dark. Tears welled in me, but practice did not let them fall. If one man in this world had deserved to see the oath live, to have been present when his allegiance shifted to a new commander in chief, that man was Ockham Saneer. Instead we watched it here, nineteen hours after the inauguration, and Ockham could not even stand to hear the words, since fetters and prison custom bound him to his chair. He did not even have his boots, just the jail uniform, slack navy and orange mockingly festive, like a child’s shapeless attempt to wrap a birthday gift. Ockham did not weep at his own state, but I saw him flinch, one taut twitch of his cheek, grief’s only token upon that bronze-strong Indian face, which always reminds me which people, alone among antiquity’s war-ready thousands, halted Alexander.

“Complete voter turnout take four hours, seventeen minutes.” These words at least were live, spoken in warm (if imperfect) Spanish by President Ancelet, who sat across from Ockham in the sterile interrogation room.

Ockham smiled at the speed with which his billion fellow Members had done their democratic duty.

“¿Want to see the interimo vice president to swear cérémonia of Sawyer Dongala?” Ancelet offered, his well-meaning infant Spanish dappled with stray French and English. “After me, the biggest vote numbers are for Sniper, ex-president Ganymede, you, your éspoux Lesley, J.E.D.D. Mason, and Sawyer Dongala, so Dongala agrees to be vice president while we hold whether any these other is eligible in the circonstances. A second urgency vote confirmed Dongala.”

Ockham’s throat cracked, stiff from the ten cautious days since his arrest, during which he had spoken nothing but guarded monosyllables and “toilet.” “I ac—khh—acknowledge that you have been lawfully elected President of the Humanist Hive, and that you now hold all the authority to question and command to which that office entitles you.”

The warmth in the new president’s smile sharpened at once to action. “¿Who ordered Sniper to attack contre J.E.D.D. Mason?” he asked, with the sharp speed of a man who had never doubted that Ockham’s silence, which had not broken for all the threats and enticements the law could offer, would break for him. “¿Who else to know?”

“English is alright with me if it’s easier for you, Member President,” Ockham invited gently, switching over. “No one else knew, to my knowledge. Oji-jiro acted alone.” He tripped over Sniper’s rarely voiced first name. “The bash’ was entirely out of contact with President Ganymede at that point, and even Lesley and I knew nothing of Ojiro’s plans.”

Ancelet nodded his thanks for Ockham’s linguistic courtesy. “Then Sniper did act alone.” His shoulders eased. “Tell me about O.S.”

“On or off the record, Member President?”

“Off, for now. We’ll need a public statement soon, but first I myself need to understand.”

That answer pleased Ockham, if I read him right. “Why is Mycroft here?” he asked.

Ancelet followed Ockham’s gaze to where I sat on a metal bench in the corner, hugging my knees and trying to ignore the prison wraiths which clawed at my limbs and shoulders. I cannot tell you whether these wraiths are the ghosts of past prisoners, or simply spirits of the jealous walls, which recognize in me another criminal who should be theirs to claim. I try to tell myself there are no prison wraiths. This was not even a real prison, just a jail, a fleeting holding place for those awaiting trial, which should never have held anyone long enough to birth a bitter ghost. Still, here, as in every prison whose threshold I have crossed since my crimes, I saw the wraiths, heard them, felt their tendrils, real as the cloth across my skin.

“I’m not allowed anywhere without a bodyguard anymore,” the new president answered. “I thought you’d prefer someone we both know and trust.”

Ockham frowned at me. “Is that the only reason?”

“No. You may or may not be aware, but I’ve relied on Mycroft a long time, not just as Censor but in my … secret office. Mycroft is my assistant, advisor, apprentice. My successor.”

“The new Anonymous? I did not know.” There was no surprise in Ockham’s gaze, just digestion, fact catalogued without comment. “Thanks to voter preference, the office of Anonymous may have frequent association with our Vice Presidency, but it is not a Humanist office, nor is Mycroft a Humanist. How do you justify granting the new Anonymous access to the secrets of O.S. given your declaration that you have severed all allegiance to your former offices?”

Ancelet frowned. “It’s my understanding that Mycroft has known of your work and kept your secrets for many years now. It’s not new information for them.”

“Mycroft has had no details,” Ockham answered, “merely the vague knowledge that we were homicides. In the past we secured Mycroft’s silence through two threats: the threat of exposing to the public the fact that Mycroft is a Servicer, and the threat of denying them access to Thisbe. Mycroft and Thisbe are lovers,” he added. “But at this point the public knows the former and I assume Thisbe is either in custody or missing, so the latter threat is also meaningless.”

“In fact, Member Ockham,” I added in quiet Spanish, my voice stirring the prison wraiths to hiss, “Thisbe and I were never actually lovers. But you can trust me with this. That Authority Which, for me, supersedes all has ordered me to tell no one, not even Them, anything I learn here without permission from both yourself and President Ancelet. You may not know What Authority I mean, but I think you do know that you and I both hold equally absolute the command of those authorities we answer to.”

“J.E.D.D. Mason?” Ockham guessed at once.

I could tell from his face that mine betrayed me. My allegiance was not yet public knowledge then, and I had expected Thisbe to keep this revelation private, one more secret to make her spellbook dangerous. Apparently not.

“Mycroft is assembling a history of the past week,” Ancelet interceded, “at J.E.D.D. Mason’s order. The book is supposed to explain events as neutrally as possible, and to include as much truth as Mycroft can piece together. No one but Mycroft will have access to the interviews and research materials, and everyone involved, including you, will have equal and complete veto power over every single line. I personally will not green-light its publication until you have told me that you are satisfied.”

“A history.” Ockham stretched back in his seat as the idea sank in. “Why?”

“J.E.D.D. Mason likes the truth,” Ancelet and I answered in unplanned unison.

Ancelet laughed, his dreadlocks falling back across his shoulders like willow whips in breeze. I was glad to see he could still laugh. “That really is the idea behind it,” he explained. “J.E.D.D. Mason wants the human race to have the truth. Most everyone else, including me, wants some controlled version of the truth out there, since you know there will be many pointed lies, most pointed against us. We must fight them with something. If you prefer, Ockham, I will send Mycroft away and summon a Humanist bodyguard, but you or I or both will wind up repeating all this information to Mycroft later on, and, since I’m new to having Humanist guards, there are none yet that I trust as much as I trust Mycroft”—he paused—“or you.”

“Prospero.” The name sounded dead on Ockham’s lips.


“Prospero. My name, my middle name, is Prospero. I am no longer O.S., so I should not be addressed as Ockham.”

It hurt hearing him say it, as it would hurt hearing a deposed king say he no longer merits “Majesty.”

Prospero Saneer let his eyes close, consulting with the darkness before breaking the seal on secrets he has carried since he was old enough to know what secrets were. “O.S. is that organ which acts when the Humanist Hive is best served by taking human life,” he answered. “Its charter, which I can recite for you if you wish, recommends but does not formally restrict it to targeting those whose connections to Humanist interests are obscure enough that no investigation may be reasonably expected to uncover our motive. The deaths should, if possible, be brought about by means subtle enough that no investigation could reasonably suspect foul play either. The Six-Hive Transit System and its computers have been our main means of both selecting and killing targets, but other methods are employed when needed. The hereditary Saneer-Weeksbooth bash’ is entrusted with both the Transit Network and the assassination system. We are O.S., though the title O.S. is also used for the system’s single leader. As Ockham Saneer I was the twelfth O.S., and now Ojiro Sniper is thirteenth.”

“That organ which acts…” Ancelet repeated, a hint of French tinting his vowels as he translated the phrase in his mind. “Interesting terminology. Who chooses the targets?”

“You do, Member President. Or, you would, in simpler times.”

The new president’s black brows narrowed. “Who chose before me?”

“O.S.’s charter specifies which officials may know about us and command us, depending on which form the Humanist government takes after an election. If there is a majority sufficient to elect a single Executive, the Executive alone knows and commands, but may, at their discretion, inform the Vice Executive. When power is split among a Triumvirate, Council, Commission, Congress, or Parliament, there are unique protocols for each combination, though usually the two to four persons commanding the largest voter margin are entrusted with the secret.”

“Ganymede, then.”

“Yes, former president Ganymede commanded us most recently.” Prospero frowned. “I am not trying to be evasive, Member President, but this is complex for me. I personally acknowledge you as president and want to give you what you need, but it should be the leader of O.S. who tells you these things, not a subordinate or former member. The times justify us suspending that rule, but I still need to think about what Ojiro would say in my place.”

“Sniper.” Ancelet breathed deep. “If I were to summon Sniper now—”

“Ojiro,” Prospero corrected. “They are O.S. now.”

“Ojiro, then. If I were to summon Ojiro and order them to do, well, to do something, do you think they would obey me?”

“I think they would consider your orders very carefully before acting.”

Ancelet took some silent time to think. “Why are you still here while Ojiro and most of O.S. have gone rogue?”

“O.S. has not gone rogue. It remains that arm which acts when the Humanist Hive is best served by taking human life. You are that arm which acts when the Hive is best served within the framework of its government and Romanova. Has it occurred to you, Member President, that your goal may not be achievable with peaceful means?”

“Which goal?”

“To preserve the Hive. You hope to placate the other Hives, and make the concessions necessary for them to stop calling for the Humanists to be dissolved.”

“I’ve considered the possibility that they’ll refuse. It is, by my calculations, avoidable.” I could almost see the numbers moving behind the former Censor’s eyes.

So could Prospero. “What about the possibility that they’ll demand so many changes that the Hive wouldn’t be itself anymore? Or the possibility that violence will break out before you finish? Or that you yourself will be assassinated? Extraordinary times may require extraordinary means. If you decide you need those means, if you talk to Ojiro and issue orders, they will almost certainly obey. If you avoid those means and yours fail, O.S. will act without you. It is one organ of the Humanists, the presidency another. Don’t mistake yourself for the head, or heart.”

Curiosity sparked a smile. “Where would you locate the head and heart, then?” the president asked.

“The head would be the voting members,” Prospero answered instantly. “The heart the Olympic Committee.”

“So while the people and the Olympic Spirit live on, the letter of the law can get stuffed?” Ancelet’s brief chuckle seemed aimed mostly at himself. “I don’t mean to tease. You’re right. I may fail. War may be inevitable, as Mycroft fears. I’m glad the Hive has another force separate from me to protect it. I also understand why you are being careful. You have every reason to doubt my fitness for this position, my loyalty to the Hive, even the validity of an election held in such circumstances. On my end, what I can say is that I trust you, Ockham … Prospero,” he corrected himself. “I genuinely trust you, but at present it’s only intellectual trust, based on Mycroft’s descriptions of you and your past actions. It will take time and interaction for that to mature into personal trust.”

Something relaxed in Prospero, just a bit, in his spine, his shoulders, as the freshly planted seed of confidence extended its first tender leaf. “Former President Ganymede alone had the authority to give O.S. orders, but Chief Director Hotaka Ando Mitsubishi and Prime Minister Casimir Perry were consulted before each strike.”


“From the beginning, through convention but no rule, the Chief Director of the Mitsubishi Hive has been taken into the confidence of whatever Humanist executive commands O.S., and O.S. has been used to aid the Mitsubishi Hive.”


Now it was Prospero whose black brows narrowed. “Possibly because the center that originally built the Transit Network was partly staffed by Mitsubishi. Possibly because the center’s first Co-Directors, Orion Saneer and Tungsten Weeksbooth, thought it would be a good way to pull the Mitsubishi into a long-term alliance. Possibly because when the system was first formed Olympian President Adeline Dembélé wanted to involve the Mitsubishi for reasons now lost to history. O.S. intentionally keeps few records, so many details are irretrievable.”

How does it feel, I wonder, to bear the sins, not of a father, but of a semiparent, half forgotten? Before your dynasty was founded, noble king, some maternal grandfather, with far too many “greats” before his name, was a murderer. Before your forefathers made the small fortune you used to make your large one, they bought their tickets to the New World with corpse-loot. Before there was a Humanist President there was an Olympian President, whose successors merged with O.B.P. to form the Humanists, and it was that Olympian President who brought O.S.’s curse on both your houses.

“Is that why, when the bash’ takes in new bash’mates each generation, they’re usually from Mitsubishi bash’es?” Ancelet asked.

“It is a rule,” Prospero confirmed. “Outside spouses and bash’mates must be approved by the Executive, and must have Humanist or Mitsubishi backgrounds, or, with extra permissions and background checks, European.”

Ancelet nodded. “How did Europe get involved?”

“It was in 2333. I believe it was a concession made to Europe in return for the E.U. not banning the sale of European-owned land to non-Europeans the way the Mitsubishi ban sale to non-Mitsubishi. I … Is there a problem?”

The word ‘land’ had made Ancelet twitch like a fly’s bite, and I saw him grope instinctively for the controls that would have been beside him had we sat in the dim, screen-lined sanctum of the Censor’s Office back in Romanova. There he, and I, and not-yet-Censor Jung Su-Hyeon, and not-yet-traitor Toshi Mitsubishi could have checked all the land sale numbers, back and back, all the way to the 2330s, where our equations, keener than truffle pigs, would have smelled out the knots of tension metastasizing in the aftermath of the Gordian-Auxilio Hive Merger. But those numbers were Su-Hyeon’s now, not Ancelet’s, that sanctum, too. There is a special cruelty in making the still-living master pass on his instrument when no living student has yet surpassed him.

“Is there a problem?” Prospero repeated.

“Yes, but not a new problem,” the new president answered, with a frankness I did not expect. “Associates and I”—his lips quivered at the ever-fresh memory of Kohaku Mardi’s bloody corpse—“have long predicted that the Mitsubishi landgrab policy would lead to an economic—or more than economic—crisis. It’s … interesting … to see how long ago others predicted the same.”

Prospero studied his new commander slowly, unused to frankness after Ganymede’s golden façade. “The greatest purpose of O.S.,” he answered slowly, “is to prevent large conflicts like the present one. I myself have never been involved with selecting targets or tracking trends, but from Eureka’s comments I believe we have been working to stave this off for a long time.”

Ancelet nodded. “You were. I’ve seen the numbers. You were. You did it well.”

“Thank you, Member President.”

I wondered briefly whether Prospero understood the full depth of the compliment, coming from the one man in the world who could see the impact rippling through the past perhaps better than set-sets could. No matter. His president had praised him. A spearman’s joy as he receives praise from Athena’s lips does not depend on how well he understands the goddess’s mastery of one particular technique.

“I don’t necessarily condone the system,” Ancelet added, “but you did do good with it, a lot of good. Now, this O.S. charter, which I will need to see, does it mention the alliances with the Europeans and Mitsubishi?”

“No.” Prospero’s bonds clanked as he shook his head. “There is no physical record of any kind that can establish European or Mitsubishi involvement.”

“Not even anything suggestive?” Ancelet spoke almost before the last syllable had winged its way from Prospero’s lips. “The policy of not assassinating European and Mitsubishi Hive Members, was that ever written down?”

“No. That was a verbal agreement made by past presidents. If you yourself choose to use O.S., you must decide whether or not to continue that policy.”

“What about the Utopians?” I interrupted, my voice shrill as I tried to will away the tickling torture of my phantoms. “Your policy to never kill Utopians, was that someone’s request?”

The prisoner said nothing until his president nodded consent. “Targeting Utopians is forbidden by the injunction against deaths which would trigger investigations likely to expose us.” He raised his manacled wrists, letting the light catch on the inner padding of glistening Cannergel. “You know why.”

President Ancelet sat silent, peering, not at the prison walls, but at the realm of thought beyond. “Then, so far as legal investigation will be able to uncover, all hits made by O.S. were directly ordered by a Humanist Executive, and no other figure ever made the decision. Correct?”

“Almost, Member President.”


Prospero Saneer took a long breath. “As O.S., I was authorized to use the means at my disposal to prevent misuse of those means. In other words, it was my duty to execute anyone, outside O.S. or inside, who attempted to pervert, misuse, or steal the means we used to kill.”

“And you’ve exercised that authority?”

“We killed our bash’parents.” Prospero stopped there, but the president’s stare demanded more. “Five years ago. My mother, Osten Saneer Eleventh O.S., my father, also the Snipers, the Typers, the Weeksbooths, they were planning to bypass government approval and select targets themselves, based on their own judgment of what would be best for the Humanists. We, the younger generation, arranged a rafting accident. Cato planned it and myself, Ojiro, Thisbe, and Lesley actually carried it out, but we all consented, and we all helped.” He frowned at the hints of pity which showed in his president’s face. “They plotted treason, Member President. Former President Ganymede commended the action when I informed them.”

Such perfect calm. Something inside, an older part of me, envied it, reader—envied him. You see, I never managed patricide. Or matricide. Parricide aplenty as I worked my way through my adoptive family, but Providence took my blood-parents before I could attempt the one offense so unthinkable that my ancestors teach me to hold it up as proof that the universe needs Furies and torments. What a privilege for Prospero to have passed the absolute test: love, Nature, and nurture all on one side and only loyalty upon the other. I think the wilder creature I once was would have had the strength to kill the parents who gave me life, but I will never know. Nor can I console myself that at least their deaths do not add to my guilt, for I lost Bridger, so all dead blood, from my own parents’ blood to the first Cro-Magnon who sharpened a stone, is on my hands, and well the Furies know it.

President Ancelet leaned back with a full-bodied sigh, his dreadlocks making the shatterproof foam seat back hiss like a snare drum. “They can’t accuse you of hypocrisy at least.”

“They can accuse me of anything they like, Member President,” Prospero warned. “Whether these facts or any others should be released to the public during my trial must be your decision. Unless you prefer that I not stand trial.”

“That’s why you let yourself be captured, isn’t it? You wanted a trial.”

“Making the whole truth public was the only way I could think of to calm the other Hives, or at least to ensure that, if we are destroyed, it will be due to truth, not paranoia. But my trial may not be necessary after all; when Ganymede fell, I didn’t expect to have a strategist of your caliber come forward to help us.”

The ex-Censor nodded slowly. “Out of curiosity, how would you expect to avoid a trial at this point?”

“Through my escape, incapacitation, or death. Any could be arranged; we still have Ojiro.”

Ancelet twitched: this was the first time, I think, he had seen a man offer to die for him. “No. The trial will go forward.” His voice turned from conversation to command. “You will plead terra ignota.”

Ockham Prospero Saneer does not flinch at monsters, be they flesh or words, but I do. Terra Ignota, our young law’s Unknown Lands. The geographic nations had 3,934 years from Hammurabi to the Great Renunciation to map out the kingdoms of their law, while our Hive laws were breech-born in the hasty wilderness of war. The European Union had only to revise its constitution for the umpteenth time, and tradition claims that the Masons have not changed a letter of their law since law began, but the rest of the Hives have patchwork law codes, stitched in haste from those of corporations, clubs, families, custom, fiction, and, yes, relics of the geographic nations, too. The newborn Hives soon learned to handle crimes that tangled two of them, but what can our young law do when two Hives’ Members break a third’s law in a fourth’s house? Or when a beast like me tangles all seven and the Hiveless in one bloody spree? If Gordian law demands that all records must stand open to science, can the Cousins force them to conceal the background of a Gag-gene? If the Mitsubishi consider self-defense justifiable homicide, can the Utopian equation of homicide with libricide force the Mitsubishi to forgive lethal force if it is used to save, not a life, but a manuscript? For ordinary crimes, the criminal’s Hive pays reparation to the victim’s, then each Hive disciplines or compensates its Member as its own laws prescribe. When Hive preferences are incompatible, exchange of favors settles many tangles: I will fine my Members for discussing your Imperator Destinatus if you enforce my modo mundo on your Members when they kill Utopians. But as commixing genes forever find new ways to make the species stranger, so commixing Members ever conceive new ways to stray beyond the edges of the law. Hence the honest and necessary plea: terra ignota. I did the deed, but I do not myself know whether it was a crime. Arm thyself well for this trial, young polylaw; here at the law’s wild borders there be dragons.

Terra ignota for murder!” I half screeched the words as the wraiths around me churned in protest.

I deserved the glares the others fixed on me.

The president spoke first. “What O.S. did was ordered by the Humanist government through its own due process, and served legal mandates: O.S.’s to serve the Humanists, the Humanist government’s to serve its Members, and the Hives’ contract with Romanova to support the good of all Hives and the human race. I can’t say with certainty whether or not such Hive-authorized homicides were, or should have been, illegal. Neither can you.”

Prospero watched contented as these facts flowed from his new commander’s lips.

“But, Censor,” I cried, “even back in the days of geographic nations, assassination was—”

“And if we still lived in those dark ages, that might mean something,” Ancelet snapped, too much in haste to chide me for letting his old title slip. “A nation could kill to protect its sovereign soil. Can you define a Hive’s sovereign soil, Mycroft? Can you define the limits of Hive self-defense?”

Had I a more yielding soul, it should have been Ancelet whose wise words silenced his troublesome apprentice. It was not. Instead it was the Great Specter Thomas Hobbes, who loomed suddenly over my mind, as he had loomed over Europe in those grim decades after 1651, when all the lights of scholarship united in the struggle to forge some mental weapon that could pierce logic’s armor and slay the dread Leviathan. Perhaps no mind has ever so united all the spearpoints of philosophy in one phalanx against him, but the Beast of Malmesbury—Hobbes’s title, as saturated with dread as the Patriarch’s with honor—used Reason’s highest arts to paint portraits of Nature, God, and Man so perfect that not one brushstroke could be criticized, yet so abominable that they left the reader unable to respect humanity. So desperately Hobbes’s readers cried, “We are not brutes! We do not hate and fear each other so! Humanity is a fair race! Noble! Good!” But they could not prove it, not against Hobbes’s flawless descriptions of the realities of human malice. All the land’s horses and all the land’s men could not cure the Hobbesian infection, not for the twenty years it took John Locke to develop his Blank Slate, the only antitoxin. And even with that antitoxin in our reading list, Leviathan looms still from time to time, when some new dreadful deed of humankind reminds us how well Hobbes’s cold, aggressive war of all on all describes our state. Our selves. We in 2454, with two thousand secret O.S. victims shoring up our near-utopia, can we prove we do not live on murder? Now I felt anew this shadow, conjured by Ancelet’s words—the nation’s right to kill in self-defense—which summoned in my mind some lines of Hobbes which slipped out of me—lines which, try as I might, I can neither unread nor refute: “Hobbes says that neither passion nor action may be called a sin until they know some law that forbids them, and that, where there are no man-made laws, the immutable and eternal Laws of Nature and Reason state that all men must and may, by whatever means we can, defend ourselves.” I shivered, finding myself stared at. “Such a Law of Nature could not convict O.S. Can Romanova?”

The grim set of the ex-Censor’s face made me wonder whether he too, so deeply touched by our Madame, had already felt Hobbes’s bestial shadow. He turned back to the prisoner. “You will stand trial, Prospero. You first, alone. Yours is the core case, and doesn’t get us into the tangle of prosecuting a former head of state, and there won’t be any complicating issues about your mental fitness to stand trial, unlike with most of your bash’mates. Your terra ignota will set the precedent.”

Prospero Saneer breathed deep. “Do you actually expect them to acquit me?”

“That’s a long-term concern. Short-term, petitioning the Senate for a terra ignota will force Romanova to admit that no one’s sure whether or not what O.S. did was criminal. When people believe their side is in the right they’ll fight tooth and nail for it, but no one wants to tear the world down over a maybe. The instant the Senate officially accepts your terra ignota, the mobs will calm.”

“That is … that would work.” It was not quite zeal that tinted Prospero’s tone, but something heavier, gratified relief, as a knight might feel, required to pledge his life to a new-crowned prince, on finding that Divine Right has chosen well. “What about the mobs that aren’t about O.S.?”

Ancelet sighed. “You mean the Cousins Feedback Bureau affair?”

“I mean the incident with Perry and the rest of you at that gender brothel, and what Ojiro says about J.E.D.D. Mason. Is it true there’s a conspiracy to merge the Hives?”

The new president met Prospero’s eyes straight on. “I don’t know.”

“Are you prepared, as Ojiro is, to use any means necessary to protect the Humanist Hive from such a conspiracy if it exists?”

“I’m not about to try to kill J.E.D.D. Mason, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Kill again,” I corrected, the gravity of his error justifying my interruption.


“Try to kill again. ??a? Jehovah died.” It was reflex for me by now to pounce upon the lie repeated so many times these past days: ‘tried to kill,’ ‘attempted assassination,’ while so few face the reality: Our Maker’s Guest departed, and returned.

Prospero’s brows knit. “I thought J.E.D.D. Mason survived.”

“He was resurrected.”

“Enough, Mycroft,” Ancelet ordered. “This meeting is about the Humanist Hive, not theory or theology. As for Ojiro, if I had a way to contact them”—the president glanced pointedly at me—“I would tell them that, until or unless Propsero’s trial makes it definitively unlawful, I am open to using deadly force, and Ojiro’s resources, to protect the Humanists, but I intend to try other ways first. If Ojiro stands by, ready to act if needed, I will count them an ally. If they disrupt my plan, if they stir up hostility by continuing to release these videos of Tully Mardi urging war, and especially if they go after J.E.D.D. Mason again, then they and O.S. will become my enemy.”

Prospero nodded. “A useful message; I hope it reaches Ojiro.”

Ancelet returned the nod. “Now, I have all I need for today. The Senate meets tomorrow. I need time to muster votes so they accept your terra ignota.”

The president rose, and Prospero tried to rise by reflex, forgetting for a moment the fetters which kept him seated. “Will a majority be hard to achieve?” he asked.

It was the old Anonymous, I think, who smiled here. “Not for me. Now, I’m leaving Mycroft here with you for a little while. You two will write up a report on O.S. and the events that led to its exposure, both for Mycroft’s history and for use at the trial, concentrating on recent things, the last few weeks, the Seven-Ten list. I need to know everything. When you’re finished, tell the guards to call me, and I’ll collect Mycroft and the report myself. The report will be for my eyes only, and, once I’ve read it, I’ll give you instructions specifying what information should be made public and what should be concealed. Once you’re confident that you know what I want you to conceal, then you will tell the police that you’re ready to make a statement. Until then, you should continue to refuse to say anything to anyone, except Mycroft or myself.”

“Yes, Member President.” A pause. “The boots suit you.”

Shock delayed Ancelet’s smile at this, the highest praise that Prospero could give. “Thank you.”

They did suit him, the president’s new Humanist boots, and betrayed too that he had long been mulling over what boots he might choose should he give up his Hiveless sash for the Humanists, instead of for his bash’native Europe. The boots’ surfaces were palimpsests, the dull tan of old parchment covered with hand-inked text in antique brown, but with a different script beneath, faint but still legible, the tightly crammed script of an earlier century. Around the soles, the bronze and gold Olympic stripes of Ancelet’s medals in mathematics and oratory sparkled against the tricoleur of the French nation-strat, while on the sole the treads were crammed with letters like the type in a printing press, locked in loosely, so they shifted chaotically with every step and stamped out different almost-words.

Ancelet knocked for the guard, frowning as the bolts began their clicks and groans. “Prospero, are they treating you alright?” he asked. “Any harassment?”

“None, Excellency. Their courtesy has been conspicuous.”

“Yes, well … siege makes people careful.”


Prospero did not understand, but I did. Walking from the car to the prison yard an hour before had been my first taste of outside since the fatal day. Slivers of media had shown me crowds, small riots, speeches, police lines, Humanist clubs and sports bars besieged by outraged mobs, but images are not the taste and touch of our new world. I noticed the sky first. The customary streaks of cars were too slow, too low, obtrusive. It frightened even me, not so much because it meant the transit network was in timid and unstable hands, but because the sky had changed. The world had changed. As we had landed at the prison I could see no ground around it, only people, the near ranks packed tight as fans around an idol, while the farther reaches gave way to tents and chairs and umbrelounges. My instinct labeled it a ‘mob,’ but it was too quiet. A siege, as Ancelet so aptly called it, stagnant, patient, an aimless force waiting for an aimer. In that directionless week, when everyone wanted to act but no one had a plan, these people felt that standing close to the living linchpin Ockham Saneer would ready them to be the first to move when the time came. The besiegers around us did not even have sides, only clumps where Hive dress clustered, but even these blurred one into another, as if they were all too timid to tell each other what causes they served. I think they didn’t know.

“Ancelet! That’s President Ancelet!”

Walls of stone and science are no match for assaults of sound. Prospero and I heard the mob’s scream even here in the prison’s heart as the new president emerged from the gates outside. He could have left by the roof patch, but he chose to show himself to the besiegers for the few minutes it took for them to snap enough photographs to serve his purposes, before he dove into the car and thence the sky. For sixteen hours President Ancelet’s visit to the jail in Almoloya de Juáres eclipsed all other questions in the world’s eye. Why was he there? What did he say to Ockham Saneer? What role would the new president take in the coming trials? For those sixteen hours anyone but Ancelet could move invisible.

Copyright © 2017 by Ada Palmer