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Tiamat's Wrath
Author: James S. A. Corey

Prologue: Holden


Chrisjen Avasarala was dead.

She’d passed in her sleep on Luna four months earlier. A long, healthy life, a brief illness, and she left humanity very different than she’d found it. The newsfeeds all had obituaries and remembrances prerecorded and ready to spin out across the thirteen hundred systems to which humanity was heir. The chyrons and headlines had been hyperbolic: The Last Queen of Earth and Death of a Tyrant and Avasarala’s Final Farewell.

No matter what they said, they hit Holden just as hard. It was impossible to imagine a universe that wouldn’t bow to the little old woman’s will. Even when the confirmation came to Laconia that the reports were true, Holden still believed deep in his bones that she was out there somewhere, irritated and profane and pushing herself past all human limits to bend history just another fraction of a degree away from atrocity. It was almost a month between the moment he heard the news and the first time he let himself accept that it was true. Chrisjen Avasarala was dead.

But that didn’t mean she was finished.

A state funeral had been planned on Earth before Duarte intervened. Avasarala’s time as secretary-general of the United Nations had been a critical period in history, and her service not only to her world but to the whole human project had earned her a place of honor that could never be forgotten. The high consul of Laconia thought it only right and proper that she find her final resting place at the heart of the new empire. The funeral would be at the State Building. A memorial would be built to her so that she would never be forgotten.

The part where Duarte was complicit in the vast slaughter on Earth that defined Avasarala’s career got skipped over. History was in the process of being rewritten by the winners. Holden was pretty sure that even though it didn’t make it into the press releases and state newsfeeds, everyone remembered that she and Duarte had been on opposite sides, back in the day. And if they didn’t, he certainly did.

The mausoleum—her mausoleum, since there wasn’t anyone else of sufficient stature to share it with her yet—was white stone polished micron-smooth. The great doors were closed now, the service concluded. A portrait of Avasarala filled the center panel on the north face of the structure. It was etched into the stone along with the dates of her birth and death and a few lines of poetry he didn’t recognize. The hundreds of chairs arrayed around the podium where the priest had spoken were only about half-filled now. People had come from across the empire to be here, and now that they were, they mostly broke into little clumps with whoever they already knew. The grass around the crypt wasn’t like the stuff back on Earth, but it filled the same ecological niche and behaved similarly enough that they called it grass. The breeze was warm enough to be comfortable. With the palace behind him, Holden could almost pretend that he might walk out to the wilderness beyond the palace grounds and go wherever he chose.

His clothes were of Laconian military cut, blue with the spread wings that Duarte had picked for his imperial icon. The collar was high and stiff. It scraped the skin along the side of Holden’s neck. The place where his insignia of rank would have gone was blank. Empty was apparently the symbol of the honored prisoner.

“Will you be going in to the reception, sir?” a guard asked.

Holden wondered what exactly the escalation tree looked like when he said no. That he was a free man, and rejected the hospitality of the palace. Whatever it was, he was pretty sure it had already been practiced and rehearsed. And he probably wouldn’t enjoy it.

“In a minute,” Holden said. “I just want to . . .” He gestured vaguely at the tomb as if the inevitability of death was a kind of universal hall pass. A reminder that all human rules were tentative.

“Of course, sir,” the guard said, and faded back into the crowd. Holden didn’t have any sense that he was free, though. Unobtrusively confined was as much as he could hope for.

One woman stood alone at the base of the mausoleum, looking up at Avasarala’s portrait. Her sari was a vibrant blue that was just close enough to the Laconian color scheme to be polite and just far enough from it to make it perfectly clear that the politeness was insincere. Even if she hadn’t looked like her grandmother, the subtle-not-subtle fuck you would have identified her. Holden ambled over.

Her skin was darker than Avasarala’s had been, but the shape of her eyes when she glanced over at him and the thinness of her smile were familiar.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Holden said.

“Thank you.”

“We haven’t been introduced. I’m—”

“James Holden,” the woman said. “I know who you are. Nani talked about you sometimes.”

“Ah. Well, that must have been something to hear. She didn’t always see things the way I did.”

“No, she did not. I’m Kajri. She called me Kiki.”

“She was an amazing woman.”

They were silent for the space of two long breaths together. The breeze made the fabric of Kajri’s sari ripple like a flag. Holden was about to step away when she spoke again.

“She would have hated this,” she said. “Hauled into the camp of her enemies to be celebrated now that she can’t crack their balls anymore. Co-opted as soon as she couldn’t fight back. You could power a planet by hooking a turbine to her right now. That’s how much she’s spinning in this grave.”

Holden made a small sound that could have been agreement.

Kajri shrugged. “Or maybe not. She might have just thought it was funny. I could never be sure with her.”

“I owed her a lot,” Holden said. “I didn’t always realize it at the time, but she did what she could to help me. I never got the chance to thank her. Or . . . I did, I guess, but I didn’t take it. If there’s anything I can do for you or your family . . .”

“You don’t seem to be in a position to do people favors, Captain Holden.”

Holden looked back at the palace. “Yeah, I’m not really at my best these days. But I wanted to say it all the same.”

“I appreciate the sentiment,” Kajri said. “And from what I’ve heard, you’ve managed to have some influence? The prisoner with the emperor’s ear.”

“I don’t know about that. I talk a lot, but I don’t know that anyone listens. Except the security detail. I assume they listen to everything.”

She chuckled, and it was a warmer, more sympathetic sound than he’d expected. “It isn’t easy, having no part of your life for just yourself. I grew up knowing that everything I said would be monitored, cataloged, filed, and judged for its potential to compromise me or my family. There’s a record in the intelligence service archives somewhere of every time I’ve had my period.”

“Because of her?” Holden said, nodding to the tomb.

“Because of her. But she gave me the tools to live through it too. She taught us to use everything shameful in our lives as a weapon to humiliate people who would diminish us. That’s the secret, you know.”

“What’s the secret?”

Kajri smiled. “The people who have power over you are weak too. They shit and bleed and worry that their children don’t love them anymore. They’re embarrassed by the stupid things they did when they were young that everyone else has forgotten. And so they’re vulnerable. We all define ourselves by the people around us, because that’s the kind of monkey we are. We can’t transcend it. So when they watch you, they hand you the power to change what they are too.”

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