Law of Survival

Law of Survival
Third book in the Jani Kilian series


“Kristine Smith supercedes herself with each new book.” Janny Wurts



On the surface, Jani Kilian’s life has undergone many changes since her medical discharge from the Commonwealth Service. Her ever-changing health problems appear to be finally under control. She’s in great demand as a documents consultant, and the money she earns enables her to live in Chicago’s most exclusive neighborhood. She has contacts everywhere, from the highest reaches of government to the military to the idomeni embassy. She has a family again. Friends. And in Lucien Pascal, an enviable, if occasionally difficult, lover.

How different this is from her former existence. Then, she subsisted in decrepit settlements and way stations and worked at scrap-heap jobs, on the run from crimes committed two decades before. Ever on the alert for the face in the crowd that turned up once too often, the skimmer that dogged her trail. Afraid. Alone.

The casual observer would think Jani had left all that far behind. They’d be mistaken. Jani has never forgotten her old sins. Now it seems there are those in the government who haven’t forgotten them either, and wish to use them to embarrass and discredit her.

But why?

As Jani finds her old life catching up with her, idomeni ambassador Egri nìRau Tsecha finds his new life in the strange humanish capital city confounding him. His government had appointed him ambassador to the humanish Commonwealth against their better judgment, and now it appears that they regret their decision. But then they always have — such is not his problem. He is Chief Propitiator of the Vynshàrau, and his place is where it is. They must listen to him. They must allow him access to Jani Kilian, his favorite student. They must, in the end, obey him.

Must they not?

About the book:

Some characters take no effort at all. Like Peter Gabriel in his video for Big Time, they step onscreen and announce “Hi there!” Whether you expected them or not, you’ve no choice but to make a place for them at the table because by golly, they’re here to stay.

I had one big “Hi there” in Law. An Haárin character named Dathim Naré popped out of nowhere and helped the once-thin idomeni storyline grow and sprout leaves. He allows insight into the Haárin mindset, embodying both their history and their aspirations. He also gives Nema (Tsecha) something to do, oh yes he does. I enjoyed writing ní Dathim. Once he showed up, the plot of Law finally, finally settled down.

This settling doesn’t come easily for me-oh, I wish it did. This book bucked and bolted. Characters I had planned to carry a fair share of the plot collapsed under the weight and required replacement. The months between Worldcon and the holidays were nervy and hectic. I took two breaks during that time, first for Windycon, then to see Peter Murphy perform at Metro. I listened to a lot of Murphy as I wrote, both solo and with Bauhaus. The music seemed to work with the book. Maybe it’s Murphy’s deep voice-I could easily imagine John Shroud singing Strange Kind of Love.

But in the end, I had a book. The changes all happened for the best. Despite the…stress, I enjoyed writing it.


Law of Survival  teaser

During an editing discussion that took place in my (now defunct) SFFNet newsgroup years ago, the subject of killing darlings came up. These are scenes that I enjoyed writing and rereading, but that for whatever reason, usually change in plot or lack of agreement in tone with the overall work, wound up being cut. This excerpt kinda falls in that category. After Law was edited and accepted and the whole bit, I was asked to write an additional “teaser” that would be added to the book and, I think, to other Eos books released around the same time. This teaser would hint at the Law plot, and provide more insight into Jani-land.

This excerpt was my first attempt. It was bounced back because my editor felt it read like part of a chapter or a short story, but didn’t really have enough to do with the plot of Law. I felt it did, but maybe I’m wrong. In any case, six years  have passed since I wrote it (yikes!) (UPDATE: 16 23 years now–double yikes) and I still like it. Maybe it could serve as the start of a short story–I recall having something in mind at the time, but I didn’t have time to write it. Years ago—as in 2007-2008 time, man—I linked to an LJ poll and asked if folks wanted me to turn this into a complete story. Received many yes votes, but never got around to finishing the story.

Given events described in Echoes of War, this fragment definitely needs updating of details. But I still think it’s usable.

“Café con leche y una dulcinea, por favor.”

Shuard Wix looked up from the innards of the balky brewer.  “Orange, almond, or chocolate?” he asked in English.  He spoke more loudly than he should have, partly to be heard above the din of the hojea station, but mostly because he’d spent the better part of an hour up to his elbows in steaming coffee grounds with no relief in sight.

The man stared at him.  He was taller than Shuard.  Thinner.  Darker.  Seemed younger, too.  Mid twenties, with the pouty good looks women tumbled for.  He wore the informal summer uniform of the Felix Majoran businessman: pale yellow short-sleeved shirt, brilliant white trousers, tan leather briefbag slung over one shoulder.  His skin was bronzed, his hair and eyes as brown as the coffee that swirled on the bottom of the malfunctioning brewer’s carafe.  “Orange,” he said after a time.

Shuard stripped off the poly gloves he wore to keep the coffee from staining his hands and tossed them atop the counter.  “Sorry.”  He reached into one of the storage bins stacked beneath the counter and pulled out a foil packet.  “It’s just that I could tell you’re not a native Feliciano.”

“I’m not?”  The man’s true accent came through now, unmasked by his English.  A softer nuance.  A touch of nasality.

“You’re Earthbound,” Shuard said as he dispensed coffee from his functioning brewer.  He had a gift for languages, and liked to type the travelers who patronized his kiosk on the way to wherever they went.  Anything to make the day go faster.  “Felician Spanish is choppier than the Earthbound varieties.  Harder.  But you mush it up, roll your Rs too much.”  He pushed the filled cup and packet across the counter.  “But you’re not Earthbound Hispanic, either, although you’re definitely Euro-provincial.”  He took the credit chit the man handed him and ran it though his reader.  “French, maybe.  Or Italian.”  He regarded the name that scrolled across the reader display.  “Mr. del Norte.”  He handed back the chit.

Del Norte pocketed it, then opened the dulcinea packet and removed one of the thin, golden wafers.  “Are you a student of languages?”  He snapped the dulcinea in two without scattering a crumb, then dipped one half in his coffee in the Felician style.

“Used to be.”  Shuard watched him chew and sip.  So meticulous.  Probably showered right after sex.  Or maybe he preferred boys, because they were cleaner.  Or maybe he didn’t like to be touched at all, and just watched.  “I spent two years at Phillipan Combined, on the linguistics track.”

“Two years.”  Del Norte glanced at the nameplate on the front pocket of Shuard’s shirt.  “Mr. Abell.  How sad that a student of languages with two years of university must sell coffee and biscuits for a living.”

Shuard felt the heat flood his face, like a blast from the dulcinea oven.  “It’s an honest job.”

“Bit of a change for you, is it?”  Del Norte smiled, a superior curve of lip and glint of chill eye that begged obliterating punches.

Before Shuard could snap a retort, a wave of commuters flooded the station.  He struggled to keep pace with the orders, damning the broken brewer, his dwindling dulcinea supply, the smug assurance of that bastard del Norte, who slipped away during the stampede.  Oh, the joys of working with the public, where a brush with a stranger could ruin an entire day.

I was always honest.

Usually always honest.

To make matters worse, he had accidentally tossed one of his gloves in the trashzap.  It must have happened during a hurried between-trains clean-up, although he couldn’t recall doing it.  None of the other vendors had any to lend, so he wound up having to fix the brewer with a bare hand.  The coffee stained his nails, just as he feared.  He thought of del Norte’s cold eyes, and scrubbed until his cuticles bled.


Shuard read about the skimmer crash a few days later.  Etienne Palia—the Vox ran holos showing a short, robust man with a series of young, beautiful women.  A “businessman,” the stories read.  Shuard smiled—he’d known a few businessmen like Palia during his short but eventful financial career.  Like them, Palia had ended his days violently—due to the force of the explosion and heat of the ensuing fireball, his ID had to be confirmed by analysis of some skin cells that had somehow survived the inferno inside the single finger that remained of one of his driving gloves.

Shuard read on, entranced.  Palia had just left Andalusia, the posh casino, in the company of a new acquaintance.  The ComPol wanted to talk to this acquaintance, a young man recently arrived from off-world.  The description, as usual in these cases, was sketchy—tall, dark, young, attractive

There was cosmic timing in matters such as this—Shuard believed that just as he believed in the wretched hell of the Majoran summer.  He had just made up his mind to risk a visit to the ComPol estación and make some trouble for his Mr. del Norte when his paper mail arrived.  Amid the usual shop flyers was an envelope and inside the envelope was a note.  Simple, plain paper.  Machine printing.  He knew that if he turned it over to the dexxies at Government Hall, they’d examine it for weeks with their scanpacks and instruments, and come up with nothing.

Not Phillipa.  Guernsey.  Not linguistics.  Accounting.

Not Abell.

Shuard closed his eyes, and thought back to a superior smile and a cold, brown stare.  He knew who had killed Palia, just as he now knew what had happened to his kitchen glove.